Understanding Friendship

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Good Sunday morning,

I was hoping to be in Virginia last night and driving back this morning, but once again, my body seems to have its own plan. I guess a more efficacious consequence was I slept longer and more completely last night than I have for a while. I need to do some cleaning this morning and then I am going to spend some time in Jim Thorpe today. I need to touch base with my nutritionist and chat about some options. I will also get some school work done. There are two things to get off my plate this week: programmatic things and grading as well as some logistics.

The last weeks have pushed me to reflect on the true nature of friendship and one of the repercussions of attending last week’s conference has me considering the complexities of this relationship as well as to ponder what it actually means to say someone is a friend. I have long been cognizant of my own distinctions in terminology as well as how I practice the relational differences between friends and acquaintances. There are also connections we make between family members. What I am sensing for myself at the moment is whether we are talking about those we truly consider as friends (and those individuals are most rare) or those we are biologically, “adoptive-ly”, or even maybe “terminologically” offered the honor of family, being a family is a tough thing to accomplish.

Those are two different relationships and very different issues for me, but they are both paramount to me, especially as I am in a new phase of my life. If I consider my life in its entirety and determine friends, I think I have two life-long friends. These are persons I have known for 2/3s of my life and we have remained in each other’s lives. They are the two, who, no matter the space or time between our contacting each other, will know and understand me and vice versa. They have been there through all the phases of my life. One of them from preschool. There are a few people I have met later in life, and they have held more than one role in my life, often straddling the personal and the professional, but they have become treasured people. One in particular is a colleague, now one of my bosses, a brother of sorts, and a person I admire and trust without limits. There is a person who I met through Lydia, he worked for her and helped her with so much more than things around the house. He has also helped me and he is so gracious. He is a fabulous person and incredibly knowledgable and intelligent. I am blessed to have him in my life. Finally there are some people in my old neighborhood “on the circle”, they are astounding because of their care and love. They are people on whom I know I can depend. I have been blessed. Then there is my actual family. They’re people from my adopted family (the extended Martin family). There are my “technically” second cousins and two of those “cousins” are more important than any words will ever really explain. They really do get me as I get them and the one knows me so well that I am actually a little frightened and wish I could figure things out better than I have as of late. There are some immediate family members (or the closest I have at this point), a nephew and a niece and their mother. I am so blessed by them. What I realize is that I have richly honored to have so many amazing people in my life. Rob has worked so hard and is doing really well. Jennifer is an amazing woman in every sense of the word. Friendship is a gift and something that, much like trust, is earned over a period of time. It is something that is tended to and cultivated. It is something on which you can depend. It is there and it is as unconditional a thing we can create or as we can muster as the fallible humans we are.

It is now Monday and I am still writing. Today I was speaking with some staff people on campus about a former student who should have graduated two years ago. Some transfer credits and a PE course. Still working on it for her. Then I was in the ACT101 area and two people asked me about my work with a former Bloom student I have helped. It felt good to say that he is in a better place. It was interesting to hear some more pieces from last year that I did not know. While some of it caught me a bit off guard, some reflection on my part forced me to admit that part of his difficulties were because of his kindness and willingness to be influenced by others around him. I am saddened to hear some more of the pieces because it shows that I need to be more discerning on how much I trust. I have learned this lesson the hard way earlier in my life and now again I am compelled to realize I trust people too completely or I am willing to see the good and ignore the obvious flaws more than I should. The consequence is pain on my part and a sort of shaking to my core that requires me to face the reality of our human selfishness. Sometimes their selfishness is immaturity; sometimes it is a particular thought process that is a bit short-sighted. Those two things can be remedied. Sometimes people are not really good people, plain and simple. Those are the people you need to be able to be watchful of, the people who should probably be relegated to a safe place (I.e. moved to a marginal position which cannot cause you harm). It is a difficult thing for me to do that. Even when warned time and time again by one who knows, I continued to offer chances. It was today that I was actually hit figuratively square in the face, I did not bring this person up at all, but the individual was brought up in the context of the larger conversation. Things I have witnessed again and again, but did not want to admit to myself the obvious flaws, were noted by these two faculty/staff. I actually said little, but mostly nodded in affirmation. It was sad for me, but I tucked it away. It will be sadder for this person and that consequence will be sooner rather than later. While I do not generally wish anything bad on someone, the reality of continued bad decisions is going to cause some even bigger issues. I am glad in this case that I am not the parent. I think God was wiser than I (not surprisingly) as I am ending life childless. While I am not always as forgiving as I might be, the picture for today is about that need. Such power we have when we fail to forgive, but the damage we cause to ourselves and others.

I am crazy-busy as some call it at the moment, but I am making progress. That is all that matters at the moment. Tomorrow I am taking my Bible as Literature class to the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg to research. I am also working on some of my own research. I am looking forward to the trip and chapel. I am also looking forward to seeing my colleague the Rev. Dr. Mark Vitalis-Hoffman. I have work to do in the morning before meeting students at 5:20 a.m., so I hope to be in bed shortly.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Sans Collar

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Good afternoon from my office,

I am between advising, grading, prepping, and trying to manage a bite to eat at my desk. Leftovers and hard-boiled eggs. At least there is protein in that. On this day in 1988, twenty-six years ago, I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. It is what I expected I would do in some manner the rest of my life. However, as fate, and some of my own choices in speaking with/to/at a bishop and the struggle in a second marriage, would happen, my ordination was taken away from me. I realize my part in that incident and I have learned a lot since then, but while I no longer wear that “turned-around-shirt” as I call it, the ministry I do in many and various ways is no less valid. I am reminded of the letter sent to me by the Reverend Fred Peters, the pastor I most admire in my entire life and the one person who can get away with calling me “Mikey”, in which he encouraged me to see ministry in a number of ways and to realize that even ordained ministry might be reasonable. I think I was a junior in college when I got that letter and I kept it for many years. I remember when I resigned the clergy roster and I cried that day as I gave my Alb and stoles to one of my colleagues.

Well . . . off to my Bible as Literature class, rather ironic in light of the topic that I am discussing. Back in my office and after meeting with one of the my groups in the Writing in the Professions class, I will meet with a second one. I am still working on my grading of the Bible as Literature midterms. I so enjoy that class and the students who have remained in the class. They are thoughtful, inquisitive, and willing to work. They are the diaspora. I told them that today in class and they laughed. What I am realizing about myself more and more is that I see my life as ministry. I am not sure that I have really considered it in that manner before. However, ministry, when it is actually effective is always mutual. And mutuality in an interesting concept. It is reciprocal in that it is both directed and received. It requires a similar progression (not that one must be in the same space or place), a trust and belief that there is a commitment to both persons be built up or lifted up in the interaction. In some important ways I believe that mutual ministry occurs more easily for me now because I am “sans collar”. I am reminded again as I think about this of some of the important prayers that used to be said. On my ordination day I was asked the following question: “Will you love, serve, and pray for God’s people?  . . . leading by your own example in the use of the means of grace, in faithful service, and holy living (OCB 225)? My answer was, “I will and I ask ” (OCB 225). I remember at the end of my ordination service so overwhelmed that I was literally sick to my stomach. I am also reminded of the song I had sung at that service.

This song by John Michael Talbot is one of the most influential songs I know. Even as I read what I wrote above, I know that at times I feel so woefully inadequate. The example I set all too often is a bit more selfish and self-centered than I wish. That is something I am working really intentionally on at the moment. It is that selfishness and neediness that has created some of my difficulties and it is my willingness to help that gets tangled with my neediness that creates some of the problems. It is not ministry and it is not mutual when one of the parties (or both) suffers some sense of hurt or damage. It is with a sense of sadness that I realize how much damage my human frailty brings to bear on situations at times. On the other hand, I was reminded that I am usually more than willing to take more of the blame than I should. I guess that is a life-long problem, but again, knowing from where it comes and managing it is what I need to do and what I am trying to be attentive to at this time. It is interesting that I have been told twice lately that I am selfless . . .  I hope to be such, but I feel I fail or fall short so often. It is interesting (and I have noted this before) that the Greek word for sin is hamartia. It literally means to fall short of the mark . . .  much like shooting an arrow at a target. The intention is always to hit the target, but sometimes we fail. That is the importance of forgiveness, but then again our forgiveness is so conditional. Our ability to move on seems so sketchy.

It is now about 7:00 p.m. and I am still in my office, having met with two more student groups. I love working with them and helping them see possibilities they did not see nor maybe did not even have any idea that such a possibility existed. I am always surprised by some of this, particularly when I am working with technology and they are supposedly a lot more technologically savvy than I am supposed to be. There are certainly times that I am not very savvy. Lately as I tried to work with Windows 8 again, I know so little and my tutor is not really available. I wish I would have had more than a 5 minute lesson one day in an airport. There is so much I wish I knew better, or more importantly, the time in which to do it. I was hoping that some of my books would show up today, but no such luck. Perhaps tomorrow. I would like to take them to Wisconsin with me next week. At least the two about friendship and maybe one on family. Because of my lack of paying attention they ended up shipped somewhere else and now I am at the mercy of the delivery service. I think my exhaustion has cost me once again. Last night I spoke with the first host family I had when I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team in 1978-79. They are from Newton, IA and I have been blessed to have them in my life since that summer. They informed me that they are coming to visit me the week of Thanksgiving. I am so excited. Judy and Lee are two of the most amazing people I have ever met and to have them in my house pleases me beyond words. I still remember the first time I walked into their house and I was memorized by the decorating and how everything was so homey, thoughtful, and inviting. It is their example I have tried to emulate in  my own house and while the styles are certainly different, the hope for those who might enter the house. It is my dream that others might feel here what I felt there. If I remember correctly Judy’s Masters degree is in interior design, so I am a little nervous to be honest. However, more importantly, I am so pleased they are coming. We have talked about this possibility for decades. To provide a bit of perspective on this, Their daughter, Anne, was four years old. She is now a professor at Eastern Carolina University. I think that makes me feel really old, but more than feel old, I guess I am. Viejo is a truthful word for me. As Melissa admitted, she referred to me as old man. Oh well.

Well, much like the day of my ordination, I am tired. It has been a long, but helpful day. The ministry I did today had mostly to do with advising. I spend hours working with student schedules, transcripts, and ISIS to make sure they are on track. It is so important to be organized and realize where things are headed for a couple of semesters (or years). I think some students are feeling much more organized and clear about where they are headed and why. You might ask why it is mutual, but I believe it is because I realized that I make a difference in their process and their experience here at Bloomsburg. Some are also realizing that being a bit more proactive is a good thing. I have a couple of more things to get managed before the morning, but my first meeting tomorrow is again at 6:45. Oh well . . . keeps me busy and focused. That is not all bad.

As always, thank you for reading and for those who have commented, I always appreciate your thoughts.

Dr. Martin

Understanding Process ~ It’s a Logical Thing

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Hello from my office,

It has been a busy morning, but I am going to try to take a break and write to clear my head. It is how I manage my life . . .  it is interesting to me that some people run from writing. I, on the other hand, run to it. I was here this morning early for a meeting (6:45 a.m.) and then I ran to the bank and met my cleaning person and we chatted about some things. Then it was back to the office and I have been working with students and making sure they are signed up for appropriate classes as well as their degree requirements or minor requirements are completed. I had another student try to do more of a double-dipping of classes than the 6 credits required. He was a bit exasperated that I told him that was not possible, but this is because he did not planned and he did not stay on top of things. It reminded me again of how I work to understand the process of something. I should not that one of my advisees came in with all her paper work, and very thing was totally in order. She actually noted that she was not like that until she had me as an advisor. Well, she is going into her last semester with needing only 10 credits to graduate. I should note that one of the surrogates I often mention is actually the same. She is so on top of everything and it serves her well. She is more about process than she wants to admit, at least that is what I would argue. While I have been somewhat castigated by a couple of people in particular for my propensity for progress and logic, it is how I have managed 59 years of my life and it has served me most times pretty well.  . . . . I am off to my Foundations classes where we are going to speak more about the writing process. Not surprisingly, I am a process composition theorist also.

Oops! I did not realize that this had published . . . I think today’s Foundations classes were some of the more effective teaching I have done this semester and I think the last week in particular were pretty helpful for students. I do think they are realizing that the practice of throwing things together with little plan is not something that works all that well any longer. At least, I am sure hoping that is the case. The ability to plan, research, use evidence and organize and develop one’s paper in a logical and systematic way is essential if the writing, especially in an argumentative paper, is going to be successful. It is now a little at 8:00 and my two Wednesday dinner guests have just left, some food in hand, but it was such a wonderful dinner event again. As I have noted before, the two of them together usually have me laughing until I have tears coming down my face. They have been so helpful and insightful. I guess I should have realized that Maria is not an American citizen by the way she noted some things about her passport. It was interesting to listen to her speak about going to her homeland (which is Poland) and how even though she was born there, she cannot claim to be Polish when she goes back. She noted some interesting things about the strong nationalism that Polish people. It was interesting to listen to her talk about some of her experiences and how a cell phone at one point made people realize she had not grown up in Poland though she is fluent in Polish. The world is such an interesting place, mostly because we are such conditional people as human beings. It is continually amazing to me how we are able to move in and out of circles and sort of discard people once we are finished with them. I got an email from a former student today, actually the first Dominican student I had, and he wants me to write a recommendation for him, but I have not really met with or spoke with him in two years. I told him that he needed to come and see me and bring a transcript with him and plan to spend some time before I would write a recommendation. I have learned all too well as of late that writing a recommendation or helping someone get a job can come back and haunt me. While I certainly want to help him, again there is a process, and merely showing up out of nowhere because things were okay at one time is not a reasonable nor logical thing to do. I am excited to meet him. I know where he was that first summer and I know there have been ups and downs, but I am hoping he has made some good decisions. It would be difficult to say to him that I cannot in good conscience offer you a recommendation at this time, but that would be better than writing something I cannot stand by or support.

Tonight for dinner, we had stuffed pork chops (boneless) and potatoes simmered in cider. The salad was kale and apple and carrot and we had an appetizer and a dessert. It was wonderful. I am realizing that the next couple months are going to be a bit hectic. Between now and the end of the semester I will be in Wisconsin and California. During break it looks like I will be in Salt Lake City, Houghton, and California again. I had hoped to go back to the DR, but I doubt that will happen now. While I am sad about that, mostly because I would love to see the people at El Cocinero, I am okay with where all of that is. I will get back there, but I imagine I will be doing it on my own. I need to work on my Spanish a bit more intentionally again, but I can manage that. This past summer I was scheduled to go to Spain, but decided against that because of some of that other issues, but now I am rethinking that. I cannot take frequent flier miles with me, so I might as well use them. What I realize is that I have some opportunities and, as I have specifically mentioned, I have been blessed. I am fortunate to have met some incredible people this year and to learn a great from them. I have reacquainted with someone I appreciate a great deal, but I am able to keep things in perspective. The last week has been a good week for me psychologically and emotionally and that is an important thing. What I reminded of again is the importance of actions and words.

Today I spoke with my closest friend and colleague. I was at their house last night for dinner and it was wonderful to see all of them. Rosie has taken a real liking to me and I am so pleased. Both she and Caroline some running into my arms and I lift them up and hug them. It is the most wonderful and heart-warming thing. Max lost a tooth yesterday; Grace was lovely, and Mary always amazes me with her wit, her intelligence and her beauty. Mark and Gayle are amazing and they demonstrate such genuine love for me. I am so fortunate they are in my life. Mark and I spoke about how we have forged a relationship that has withstood the test of time, location, and a myriad of changes. He is so insightful and spot-on. He noted we work with each other like a weather phenomenon. The more he said, the more I realized the brilliance of the analogy. I think it is the way that I need to work with almost of my relationships in the future. Something to consider, but what I realized is that it is yet another process and it is both logical and flexible at the same time. That is really quite amazing. I know there is a lot I need yet to accomplish; I need to merely buckle down and manage. It was a good day as far as work and even though it is only not quite 9:00 p.m. I think I am heading to bed shortly. I thought about starting the 5th season, but I think I am too tired to make my eyes watch even one episode. I will probably have that done by next week. I think brushing my teeth, getting things organized for tomorrow and merely going to sleep is a good plan. The house got cleaned today and it was so nice to come home to that clean smell. While I am not messy by any means, the house still needs to be worked on and cleaned. I never thought I would have a house cleaner, but I am fortunate to have a pretty amazing person.

Well, being ready for tomorrow requires a plan, a process. The first step of that process is to sign off here and get it updated. I am feeling a bit brain-dead, so I hope this blog is neither boring or foolish. Thanks as always for reading.

Dr Martin (the process guru)

Respect is Fundamental

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Hello from back in Pennsylvania,

Yesterday was a long day (it is now Tuesday morning and I am washing bedding for the second time in two days) but those are my Monday’s. While I did get a number of things covered, there yet feels like there is more to do than I seem to have the energy or strength to do and this frustrates me beyond measure. I am hoping to be caught up with my grading before heading off to Virginia. I wanted to go there on Friday night, and if I can get some coverage on Saturday for something, I will leave then; otherwise, it will be Saturday. I promised a former student I would come to see them at some point and if I do not get that done pretty soon, traveling will be much more arduous and it is not my preference to wait until Spring. I had two students stop by today and share with me how important I had been in their tenure here at students and then I had a Communication Studies student send me a very appreciative email and ask me to present to their Communication ​Day. He wrote, “On another note, I have always had a lot of respect for you not only as a professor, but as a person. It was you who I met with before anyone else when I wanted to change my major/minor. I think of you as an extremely knowledgeable and brilliant person. . . . Despite my major being Communications and all of the professors I have been in contact with, I have considered you to be my most influential professor throughout my two years of being your student.” I am humbled by such words. Of course, not every student considers me in such a way. It is a small campus and things travel. Another student, one I know first hand to be capable in so many ways, when asked about me in the last days, by a mutual acquaintance, responded with the exclamatory remark (loud enough for others to hear), “F&$@%#, Dr. Martin.” ~ probably not the first time a one syllable word has been attached to my name, and perhaps not the last time, but this particular incident illustrates so much more. The sad part is that I heard about it from more than one person. It provided yet another piece of evidence of just how far things can move from one place to another. As I thought about it more carefully, I realized it is not a problem for me. it actually reflects more unfavorably on this particular student, especially because many of the people who heard it know the bigger story. Perhaps, I could be benevolent and say it was the altered state the person was in, yet again, that allowed for such blatant disrespect, but that would be but an excuse and give the person yet another out. Something that is typical of him or her. A person is who he or she is regardless their intake of something used or taken. That altered position merely lowers their ability to filter what they would do anyway, regardless their state.What that means, more importantly, is I am not feeling particularly benevolent in this situation.

What is sadder is I too know the bigger story and as I noted in my last blog, each person succeeds, or falls (even literally fails), on their own terms. There are two things that are fundamental to who I am. If you want to see me upset, merely be disrespectful or dishonest. In addition, if you are lacking basic honesty, you lie about foolish things or lie period, and if you are disrespectful, I will probably decide to steer clear. If those things are lacking, for whatever reason, be it a basic flaw in their character or simply a phase, my desire to work with that individual is severely lessened. While I am eternally grateful in this case for some things, what has happened as of late has done a great deal of damage to any chance that I might trust in the future. However, that is not something over which I have or need to take control. This is one of the things I am learning to do, and though it is a hard lesson for me, it is a valuable one. Letting go is not characteristic of who I am because I see it as quitting, or at least I have in the past. In this case, it is necessary; it is healthy, for both parties, but sometimes I am such a slow learner. I was warned from the outset, but I did not listen. Again, my believing I could fix it. Learning sometimes is painful. Yet, I will never close the door on a person completely, but if they shut it, they will need to re-open it. That is a difference in me at this point. Again, it has been a painful lesson, but one that is indelibly imprinted at this time.

While I must admit I have not always been as respectful as I could, as I have aged, I have come to value it more and more. Whether it is to act with dignity or some sense of decorum myself or in how I treat others, it is something that was instilled in me early. I wrote about much earlier in this blog in a post about “being a gentleman”. I remember when I was an academic advisor to the Greek system at a previous institution. One particular fraternity had a horrendous reputation because of the way they treated women. I spoke with them at a meeting and told them if I had a daughter I would not allow her anywhere near their house. They argued that it was not all of them. I noted that it would take all of them to change that reputation and that it would take years to repair the damage those few had created. Reputations are so hard to build and so easy to lose. I know this from earlier in my life and mistakes I made. Sadly it didn’t matter what my intentions were; what created the image or the reputation was what people thought. Even if their thoughts were inaccurate, the damage had been done. Much more than people realize this is something I consider all  the time. It is why I do not go into certain establishments in this town. The damage to my reputation, the respect I would lose, from my students and my colleagues is not worth the chance. It’s sad that wisdom comes so late in life.

That being said, I know I’m not perfect. In fact, I am far from it. Someone with whom I’ve recently reacquainted has told me too many times “I’m too good to be true.” I have worked to dissuade them of such an opinion. Such a belief sets me up for nothing but failure. Is actually impossible to live up to what they have created in their mind. And as I often tell people I need no help in getting in trouble. In this case, I think is because they’ve been treated so poorly that being treated with any ounce of kindness seems amazing. That too is sad. After being treated so disrespectfully, it seems that it is impossible for him or her to have respect for their own person. It takes a long time to undo such damage, but it must start from the inside. One must believe that he or she is worth respect because every person is. In fact the person who acts with disrespect toward another has no respect for himself or herself. Or perhaps more likely what they deem as respect for themselves is really foolish pride. Perhaps that is the reason for that well-known saying “pride goeth before the fall.” While I would never wish for someone to fall or be hurt, sometimes it is the only option. While deep down I guess I’ve always known this, it is hearing another person’s “story”, their narrative, and watching the continued move forward from a pretty extreme flirting with an abyss, that it has been crystallized for me. That has been one of the important learning moments for me during this past year or so.

To respect one’s self, yes, even to have a sense of pride, is fundamental to who we are and it is necessary for any hope we might have of being successful or being content and happy. Perhaps that is why I am where I am in my life. It is been a long and arduous road to get to this place. It is why am making some of the changes I am making. It is as I stare at my own sense of the abyss. It is my desire to be content, to be happy. For me, part of that is in respecting others and being respected in return. The simple statement from a student to says he respects me and he’s learned from me or that I made a difference, that is the ultimate statement of respect. I am blessed and humbled to hear such things. To each of those who I’ve mentored or made some small difference, thank you for letting me be part of your life. Whether you are in my life now or in the past, you matter. It is now 5:00 a.m.; sheets are washed, bed is made. Now I can go back to sleep for an hour or two.

To the others, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Letting Them “Succeed” on Their Terms

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Hello from OSCLG,

I am walking out of one of the more poignant and touching presentations I have ever attended. While it was not an auto ethnography, it was a narrative and an amazing story about the relationship forged between and advisor and a doctoral student. It allowed me to consider the role we have in students’ lives in a different way. It also came back as I discussed the presentation of the text messages that were the basis of the presentation at the conference.

I should note it is the next morning, and early at that. I am already though security and sitting at my gate and the time is 4:45 a.m., one more reason that it is probably good that I ended up presenting on my own. I went to bed last night around 8:00 p.m., realizing that it would be an early alarm. I had actually almost fallen asleep when I heard a text message from a former Stout student, now living in San Francisco. She inquired to see if I was actually in town. When I responded affirmatively, she was a bit upset that I did not let her know in advance that I was going to be in town. She was one of my favorite students at Stout, a bit non-traditional, but an extremely hard worker and one of the most affable students I have ever had in class. It ended up that we spoke on the phone and when she found out that I had been in the ER at UCSF, she was even more bummed because she said she could look out her window at the hospital I had visited only 30 hours before. The irony in her reaching out and what I was presenting, as well as considering how to move forward, was more than I could imagine. In our conversation, both by phone and text, she noted she still “valued the opinion of Dr.Martin.” She asked about the skills sets that I believed were important and asked about returning to pursue another degree. What occurred in that conversation was the realization that what advice was given (in this case 7 or 8 years ago) resonated in such a way that it made a difference, but it also helped her realize that I had her long-term success at heart. When she was a student we met in Eau Claire once for breakfast and I once visited where she worked during her evening shift. We were known to have coffee together from time to time. The boundaries of mentor and friend perhaps blurred at moments. Now I am a friend and still a mentor rather than a mentor and perhaps a friend.

What I learned listening to the presentation yesterday was that it is more typical than I have thought, or more significantly been taught to believe (a former dean comes to mind). What are the things and who are the persons we advise? Last night before finally going to sleep, I ordered four books that I will be trying to read during the coming break. Titles like:The Compass of Friendship: Narratives, Identities, and Dialogues, Friendship Matters: Communication, Dialectics, and the Life Course (Communication and Social Order), and two additional books on family. I am actually looking toward the reading and working on my scholarly agenda. I am also realizing that I need to probably jettison some more things currently on my plate. I will focus on three things: my teaching and classes, the program and developing it, and my scholarship. Personally, I need to simply manage the issues at hand. Again, some things are evolving and a trip back to Wisconsin will help me take care of that. Helping two or three students with graduate school applications and statements are a priority as they have deadlines. I should note as I look out the window, cruising along at about 35,000 feet, I am always amazed by the beauty and the stark harshness of the Rocky Mountains. I cannot help but think of the scores of people who traversed this expanse on their way West. I am reminded of a movie I saw with the Deckers when I visited them in Utah.

I am looking through the program from the conference once again and the importance of communication and gender in the health area is still something that intrigues me. I am reminded of my conference paper last year and how the Wisconsin Department of Health requires no training in communication to work with cognitively impaired (primarily Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients) people. The significance as well as the dilemma of communicating with the elderly is something that will create even more tremendous difficulties if we fail to address such problems now. The increasing percentage of elderly with some kind of dementia or impairment is not going to recede anytime soon. This really moves me toward the title for today’s blog. As I continue to work with students, I am often asked how they are different from that first fall (1992) i taught college. It is true they are different, but in spite of the implication of the question, which usually seems to be somewhere in the realm of “are they less prepared?” or “are they poorer writers because they text?” or . . . You can fill in the seemingly negative spin on some question. I do not believe students are generally poorer or less intelligent than their generational predecessors. They are actually more rhetorically astute than many; they are actually more comfortable writing than many; and they area actually much more aware of their world and its issues than their parents or grandparents. They also have a tolerance and inclusivity that is merely part of their attitude about their surroundings. So in many ways, they are perhaps more prepared than I was. What I think is missing for many is the ability to think critically or to integrate their learning. Many seem incapable of seeing how, for instance their lack of preparation, might have larger consequences. A couple years ago I had an advise who dropped a class almost every semester, or did poorly (a D or F) in one class every quarter. They came to me with their transcript to make sure that an audit would make sure they could graduate (I should note that I just broke another pair of reading glasses and the elderly man next to me loaned me his). When I looked at her transcript, I noted the two characteristics and she was shocked that this was a potential problem. First there was the fact that she was probably at least a semester and a half behind because of dropped or failed courses (about 11 or 12 grand). There was the issue that her GPA languished at a level of about 2.5 (which is not good enough in today’s world), and there was what I thought when I saw her transcript, which was simply, I will not hire you (that is a whole lot more money invested, but not wisely). Yet, I am not sure that she understood her dilemma; she was graduating so she had succeeded. But had she? She had succeeded on her terms, so she was content, at least that is what I am led to believe. Yet, in spite of what a president might say, and I respect him deeply, or a provost might say (and I have great appreciation for who she is), merely allowing every 18 year old in college because of potential seems frightening destined to failure and scores with unmanageable indebtedness. If you have been reading my blog, my assistance in helping a student get into a different school than Bloomsburg was doing the very thing I seem to be arguing against. So, is it that each case needs more critical scrutiny?

I am forced (not all that unwillingly, I might add) to agree with Sr. Galán that our public education system is in trouble. I do not think Common Core will fix it. I do not think it is up to teachers and administrators. I think more often it goes back to the parents, to the family. Making education a priority in the household means taking an active role in someone’s education. Working with that son or daughter and knowing that their attitude as well as yours will make a big difference in that child’s learning. I know in college they are chronologically adults, but most are not. Most freshmen are overwhelmed with their newfound freedom and academics get what is left over,. Sophomores often have bad attitudes and my analysis of transcripts generally show that second semester freshman or sophomore year GPAs plummet if that is going to happen. Juniors are beginning to think a bit more clearly, but what they often realize is their past academic transgressions are killing them in many and various ways. Finally, seniors are usually able to see the handwriting on the wall and understand the significance of getting more then a piece of paper. At the moment, I am only aware of one person who has actually learned his or her lesson early enough to turn things around to the point of being on their way to graduating with honors. That is no small achievement. It is quite phenomenal.

You might notice that I have put the word succeed in quotation marks in my title. That is because success is a quantifiable term, but not a term that is easily defined. It is because we want to quantify it that it is so problematic. What I deem success is based on life experience and my own failures or learning moments. What I always want is for my students, or anyone I care for, to succeed , and that is actually in all areas of their lives. However, I cannot force them, push them to succeed, and sometimes it might go as far as that I cannot even demonstrate that their success matters. That is certainly difficult for me, but I am learning. Mentoring is an art, but not a perfect one; caring is an art too, but one that can certainly cause pain. On the other hand, it creates moments of immense joy and love. What I have realized once again is that I have been blessed with an amazing life, a wonderful position, great colleagues, generally hopeful and good students, and friends that make my life pretty wonderful. I can only live my life the best way I know. I am grateful for those who have taught me so much this past year. Well, it is almost 2,500 miles later and Philadelphia is close. The picture is of my front porch railing. Amazing what fences, real or imagined can do . . .

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Past Experiences~Present Ramifications

bucket list

Good morning from San Francisco,

It is not quite 6:00 a.m. here in the Bay Area, but I am awake ( my internal clock is still three hours later and on East coast time. I wanted to go to a chocolate and wine function last night, but I promised Marco I would be in bed before it began and I kept my promise. So I slept about 9 or 10 hours. I think that is the longest I have been in bed and sleeping with being ill in probably 10 years or more. Last evening a former student who was initially in my Composition I and Ii classes the second year I taught at Stout, ended up with a Major in Technical Communication, worked in the writing center and now has a Masters in Rhetoric and is teaching college, happened to be in town this weekend. So we had dinner together and then spent another hour just chatting. Tasha, the student and now I could call her a colleague, told me on the phone this past week, as we were setting this chance dinner up, that I was the closest thing to a father she had. She told me that she had to do this because she needed to see in person that I am doing okay.

Once someone told me if your profoundly affect four or five people in your entire life you have been successful. First of all, that raises questions for me (you should not be surprised); the initial question would be what constitutes profound? The second question refers to the issue of whether or not the issue of technology affects that single digit number. I enjoyed going to presentations this morning and I am glad that my sense of needing a backup stuck with me in my preparation for the presentation at the OSCLG Conference. I needed all of it this morning, including my mini-projector. Having a tablet did not work with the standard projectors. Because I had a small room I was able to get the sound to work for the space, but it was not optimal.

It is now about 4:00 p.m. PDT and I am back to my room. I got a quick trip to the ER at UCSF, and three bags of fluids later, I think I am okay. I am frustrated with my body, but I am currently resting in my in my hotel room. I have been doing what seems reasonable considering all the things on my plate, but I seem to be losing the battle at moments. It was also embarrassing that I did not have enough strength to stand up at one point or that my legs hurt so badly, they affected my mobility. I did manage it as gracefully as possible, but it still confounds me that my body is so fickle at times. Along with that I was managing two or three issues that are important in PA while being here in CA. it just was a poignant reminder that life never stops and there are always issues to manage at any moment. I was asked by my mentor from graduate school about the fact that there were 5 or 6 people at this conference from Bloomsburg. I was the only one from English; the rest were from Comm Studies, but it was once again a reminder of just how multi-disciplinary what I did at Michigan Tech really was. It prepared me in so many areas and ways for my life after graduate school. I need to speak with Patty about one of my students yet tonight. I am hoping that she would end up there too. In fact, having both Drs. Sotirin and Bergvall here will be helpful for what I can take back to Maria. That will be a dinner conversation I think as I am having dinner with the three of my mentors who are here. I am also grateful that Dr. Shoos, a third mentor is here. She is kind, elegant and brilliant.

I was thinking about the fact that they are seeing what I have accomplished with what I received from them and I had that same opportunity last evening, seeing, first hand what Tasha did what what she learned, at least in part, from me. It is interesting to me that even that first semester I saw this opportunity and possibility in her. Her work in class and her work at the writing center prepared her well. It was fun to speak about things that happened back then and hear her perspective on it now. She referred to me as her Dr. Larch and as her father. What an amazing compliment to receive. It is at times like these that one realizes that they do make some difference, if even in a small way. Tasha would probably argue that it is not a small way but she has so much life left to live. For me it is much like the Deckers; little did I know that he would become my colleague both In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In fact, it is ironic that I am writing about this in San Francisco because the last time I was here I was interviewing for the position at Bloomsburg University. Things always seem to come full circle. Regardless of what happens there’s always a connection to what is happening in our lives previously. I think that is the case for most people, but they take little time to reflect and realize it. As I consider the last 12 years of my life, I realize that going to Stout was much more about Lydia than a position at the university. That is not to say that my position at Stout was unimportant. It did much to prepare me for being at Bloomsburg. There is a small group of students from Stout who still stay in contact with me. Most of them seem to be quite successful in their current positions. What I learned in working with them has prepared me for what I do here at Bloomsburg. If there is a difference, it is I think I’m better at it now. Dr.. Bergvall, one of the people, who is here with me at OSCLG and her husband, were wonderful in their attention focused on helping students prepare to be professionals.. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to work with a student at a conference. While It did not turn out exactly like I expected, I am very glad that I worked with this possibility. Helping a student understand both the academics and the application of what they are learning is central to what it means to claim your education. Anyone who is taking my class, any class from me, knows that I want them to claim this education they are receiving to make it there own. For me the most important thing I learned this conference was how technology permeates our thoughts or actions, our lives. It has fundamentally changed the communicative process. As is always the case, a conference rejuvenates me. It helps me think more clearly, more passionately, more completely or deeply. Is it moments like these that I wish I was at an R-1. But I’m not sure I am actually smart enough for that, and it would take me out of the classroom more than I wish to be taken out.

I am forced to wonder what my present experiences will do for the future and for the people with whom I am currently working. Up until now I always thought it would be around to see it. Now I’m not so sure. That’s why trips to the emergency room and other medical dilemmas that are part of my life seen more troublesome to me now. It’s not the pain nor the inconvenience, it is that I am forced to deal with my temporality. I’m forced to ask myself the question, “have you been successful?” The last eight weeks has forced me to reconsider, at least in some cases, where It seems my influence has been more negative than positive and that pains me deeply. On the other hand, many positive things have also happened like weekly dinners with two seniors and helping them prepare for graduate school; working with another student who has asked me to be her honors mentor, or being both a mentor and surrogate parent to roommates who are both in the minor. I am always honored and amazed when parents tell me how much they appreciate what I have done for their sons and daughters. Ultimately, in the end, I’m not sure what the final tally will be (and more importantly, it is not about keeping score). I am reminded of the phrase from the Lutheran Occasional Services Book (I have actually noted it before): “well done good and faithful servant.” My humanity often gets in the way of my faithful service. For that I can only ask for forgiveness. What I know is I have been blessed, By things in my past that now affect my present, I am capable of seeing that gift. Yes, and so it is, more than I often realize, my past experiences have present ramifications.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

A Life Well Lived

Lydia_posed_3 sized

Good early morning,

As I write this it is early morning, and even though I went to bed pretty exhausted, it is a little after 3:00 and I am awake. I think I actually woke up because of a dream. I think that I was dreaming about Lydia. Perhaps it is a combination of the phone calls received and that I was dreaming of her. It is hard to believe I have been in her life for 10 years now. She has probably influenced my life as much as anyone in my adult life. Little did I know when I was first told about by Elaine, our mutual neighbor, what sort of consequence she would have. I still remember clearly our first meeting. She was tiny, yet with a commanding presence. She had a sweet and somewhat vulnerable tone to her voice along with one of the strongest German accents I had ever heard. After a single sentence I asked, Lydia, sprechen Sie Deutsch? Sie hat geantwortet, “Natürlich , ich bin Österreicher.” Dann habe ich zu Ihren in Deutsch gesprochen. Am Ende unseres Gesprächs über meine Miete ihrem Wagen Haus, lächelte sie und sagte, “Michael, können Sie Tür an Tür mit mir zu leben.” Das war die erste Nacht, was andere Art von Familienbeziehung begonnen. Ich würde schließlich das Kind, das sie nicht geboren geworden war und sie die Eltern hatte ich nicht mehr geworden ist. Me gustaría poder componer en medio español lo más rápido y correctamente como lo hago en alemán. Yes, along with this sentence there are three languages in the last five or six sentences.

I am completely fascinated with languages, speaking and comprehending them, at this point. I want to soak them up I want them to permeate every molecule of my existence. When I can speak and comprehend, I begin to understand and truly know someone and something. I would to go away and just study language about 8-10 hours a day, perhaps learning a different language on alternate days. MWF Spanish and TR another language, Polish or Russian or I don’t know, perhaps French. I want to be fluent in at least 5 languages. Lydia spoke four so I know it can be done. I loved listening to her speak both Polish and German.

If you have been reading my blog over time (including previous blogs on blogsome, which are no longer available), you know that Lydia has been a part of my life for quite some time; I am realizing it is 10 years. That was actually a bit shocking to me. Even more so that half of it had been from a distance, and a significant distance at that. What I have learned is that Lydia became a central person and a parent to me. She was the person for whom I cooked, I chauffeured, I shopped with or for, and I provided a sense of security for. She had, in many ways, chased many people away. In addition, her reclusiveness created a barrier for many and her accent only seemed to accentuate her unreachable aura. What I learned one the first times I was in her house was how incredible her heart cared and deep her compassion actually ran. She found an ant on her kitchen counter. If I found said insect, it would be toast. She instead picked it up by letting it walk on a napkin and then took it outside. I was in awe of what I witnessed that day. On the other hand, she had little tolerance for stupidity. While she was frugal, for the most part, she was also generous.

As I am writing, it is now Wednesday evening. I am terrifically tired. I had two of my favorite students over for dinner. They have been friends since the first summer I had them in Foundations. It was actually Composition I then. They came for dinner last week and we have decided this will be a standing Wednesday night get together. The two of them together are bend-over-and-hold-your-stomach hilarious. They had me laughing almost continuously, and they are so gracious. It is enjoyable to be with them. I am helping one with grad school applications and the other will probably doing similar things soon. It is a frightening time. Even though It has been a while, I remember sitting on the grad committee for the RTC program at Michigan Tech. I think of even now when we have to rank people in the department for temporary positions. I actually hurt when we have to do that. We are deciding peoples’ lives. I think seriously about people we do not rank in a certain order. These are people I am around every day. I think about my own experience with evaluations and if there were ever a real life Tail of Two Cities in this realm, my time at Stout and the difference here would be such a tale.

I am headed out to a conference tomorrow early and I am fortunate to be going to a conference I thoroughly enjoy. The presentation has come together remarkably well with the help of my co-presenter and the extended family so to speak. I have not seen the final product, but I am waiting on it as I write this. I am not fearful as I was about two weeks ago. It has been an unbelievable process and I think I have put more effort into this presentation than any other (with the exception of my comprehensive exams or my dissertation). I have been more analytical in considering data and method because I am committed to publishing everything I do now. That is necessary for me to get promoted and that is my next significant goal. There is the immediate goal of being as healthy as I can and I am working pretty diligently on that, though the last couple weeks have kicked me a little. I have too much on my plate, but I am not sure what I can jettison. I am stepping back on a couple things at school, but a couple of bigger things have been added. The next couple of weeks will need to be productive to about the 5th power. I need to get some programmatic things out and I need to get some things off to Utah. I think I will be in my hotel room working a lot during this conference.

The last couple days have been spent with an intentional focus on Lydia’s needs and the larger picture of her life. Again, as my title offers, her life has been a life well lived. It is hard to believe that she has been on her own in some fashion for 19 years. She is an interesting oxymoron. She was profoundly independent and yet unbelievably dependent. She appreciated her solitude but always wanted someone around. She could be unbelievably tough and exceptionally caring. I think I brought something positive into her life. Maybe it was getting her on the back of my Harley. Maybe it was knowing that she could depend on the breakfast every morning. Maybe it was because I got the bats out of her house, though not quick enough for back for Becky. I remember the first thunderstorm and she told me we had to move George. I did not understand. What I soon learned was that George was in an urn in the sitting room and in case of storm we moved him to a more protected space. Of course then there was Lydia and her fear of storms was unequaled. She would hide in the basement with your weather radio shaking like a leaf. And her Austrian accent she would exclaim, “Michael, it’s going to be a catastrophe!” I would reply, “Lydia, you are
catastrophe.” I also knew you would have the weather scoped out before even the weatherperson did.

One thing I regret is that I never could get you to travel. I think about that as I am once again on a plane, but flying completely across the country to present at a conference. I wonder what you would been like doing such a thing. I know that I struggled getting you to go even to Hudson let alone consider a flight to your homeland. You lived in multiple countries and various states (I guess only two states). I wonder what you were like when you lived in England? I wonder what you were like as a doctoral student? I wonder if you knew more than I did that when you started at Northwestern that you would become a professor. I do not think I even had it completely figured out when I began that second masters at Michigan Tech. What I know is while your amazing eyes do not blaze quite so vibrantly, you had a keen brain and your read your WSJ every day. You listened to the news and NPR and you were always thinking. Now I think of you continuously and love you more deeply. Lydia, Sie haben mein Leben geändert. Sie haben es möglich für mich gemacht, anderen zu helfen, wie Sie mir halfen. Wegen Ihrer habe ich auf Arten gegeben, wie von ich nur geträumt haben könnte. Sie erinnerten mich daran, wie wichtige Sprache und Kultur sind und deswegen ich an einer anderen Sprache arbeite. Sie sind die Mutter, die ich nicht mehr hatte, und ich wurde der Sohn, den du außerste Stande waren zu haben. Gott arbeitet auf mysteriöse Weisen. Ich werde von dich gesegnet, und ich weiß, dass wir einander wieder sehen werden. Ich liebe dich mit meinem ganzen Herzen.

To the rest reading, I have simply told Lydia how much she changed my life and because of her help, I could help others. She has embodied the “pay it forward” concept for me. I love her deeply.

Thanks for reading

Michael