Letting Them “Succeed” on Their Terms

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 thigh 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 hit a text message from a former Stout student, now living in San Francisco. She inquired to see if we’re 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 out 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 know 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 weddings 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
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 there 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.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Past Experiences~Present Ramifications

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

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

Learning Continuously

Scan 325

Good Sunday Morning,

Yesterday was hectic and yet manageable, and I am feeling also successful. If you have been reading my blog this past month, you are aware that I have struggled both personally and professionally. The great majority of those struggles have been self-induced, not necessarily because of the actual events or changes, but because of my response and reaction to them. I have created more stress for myself than was certainly needed. While I do not really desire stress as part of my life (I do not like drama because I was married to that at one point.), I am learning my fragility has a way of inducing it. By taking things more personally than I should, I create dilemmas that are unnecessary and ultimately hurtful. That is some of what I have begun to understand more precisely in the last weeks, and particularly this last week. While I was stressing about this conference, the other was pulling all-nighters because of all the things on her plate. I was too concerned with my own stuff to think more carefully about the bigger picture. For that I owe Melissa an apology and, so Melissa, I ask for your forgiveness. Seems I have needed to offer more apologies than usual lately (and for the most part to the same person). Humility is an important thing and it seems I have been humbled quite a bit as of late.

Last night in the preparation and taping for the OSCLG Conference, I had a wonderful opportunity to consider what has happened to me this year. I reflected last night after we had finished and I was not quite asleep on a text from March that noted it was going to be a good year. I cannot agree more when I consider all of the things that have happened. I have learned more about myself, both positive and not so much, than perhaps any time period in my life. The taping of the presentation was really enjoyable and it was revealing for me. I learned so much more about these messages and Melissa’s insight into how to manage both the content in that event as well as her insights into the texts left me in awe. She is really quite brilliant. I have always assumed that, but it has been an assumption because I have not really ever worked with her. We have worked around each other, but never actually with each other in an intentional way. She is focused (not surprising); she is effective and efficient (again, not surprising), but she is also much more of a scholar than I believe she gives herself credit for being. She is an outstanding student as is shown by what she has accomplished, but grades and application are something quite different. I am really excited to finish up the presentation and present it at the conference this week. I am thinking that in someways what we recorded might be more effective than if we would have been there together as originally planned. Ironic that the conference is titled “Engendering Technology” and we used some pretty sophisticated camera equipment for the filming last night. I am indebted to her father and Jorge for their willingness to come on a Saturday and spend most of their late afternoon and all of their evening to do this. It was also nice that Maria was there also. She always brightens my day.

I should note it is now Sunday afternoon and before I get to work on some other things, I am sitting in Jim Thorpe working in a coffee shop. I needed to stop by my nutritionist’s shop and pick up some things and chat with her about how things are going. Now I am sitting in an amazing place called “Strange Brew” (and no the Mackenzie Brothers are not to be found. Bummer!) and drinking apple cider and working. I love coming to Jim Thorpe. I think it is a place I can relax also. It is not quite as far to travel as Placerville. That is a good thing. Even though I have been coming to Jim Thorpe the entire time I have been back in Pennsylvania, I am still stunned at the transformation this town went through from when I left here in 1992 and when I came back in 2009. There is very little that could connect you with the town it was in the late 80s and 90s. It is now quaint (yes, I will admit “touristy”), Victorian, and quite appealing. It is a wonderful place to come in the Fall during their Foliage Festival or during the Christmas Holidays. Now I can enjoy being here by myself or bringing someone to experience the ambiance of the town for the first time as is happening today.

I have really been reflecting on what I have learned in my life in a really specific way and thinking about from where some of those lessons have come. As I have been listening to music today, those of you who know me well are aware that I have a somewhat encyclopedic memory for songs, lyrics, bands, when a song was released, and other minutia about whatever song I know. I am not sure where or how that happened, but I think at least part of it is being blessed (although not always a blessing) with a pretty phenomenal memory. So as we are sitting in the coffee shop, I am listening to the music, singing along, and this is happening with almost every song. I am getting some rather puzzled looks, a look like “you know this one too?” It just happens. Music has been such a central part of my life. I have been singing my entire life. I guess one of the good things about music now being “clouded” is I cannot lose it. When I was divorced from Susan, I lost probably 1,000 albums; CDs were justing coming in, but I lost a significant number of those too. When I left Terri, I lost a boatload of CDs and a pretty kick-ass stereo including my Bose Acousti-mass speakers. Now I have a boatload of music on iTunes and I use both iTunes Radio and Pandora. I have to give Jordan and Melissa credit for bringing me into the current decade. I think the entire DJ movement is such an interesting development when one considers issues of composing, intellectual property. These are the things I think about; these are the things I want to understand and learn more about. Technology as created such amazing opportunity, but how does it change the artistic process and what it means to compose? How does it change the interaction between vocals and instrumentation? These are some of the things I have my students investigating right now as they are working on their papers. For me it is about learning more. I cannot merely walk through life oblivious to what is happening around me. It is essential to me to be always asking why. The why is not mean to question validity nor even to agree or disagree, it is to understand; it is to be able to carry on a meaningful and thoughtful conversation with others.

I think the specific moment (or short period) that I finally understood that learning was absorbing versus memorizing was when I was traveling in Europe in January 1980 with Dr. Nielsen and the interim class where we had read books by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann. As I walked through Western Europe I felt like I was walking through a history and it was my task to soak up every possible molecule of knowledge I could. What I learned was I loved to learn, not merely for some sort of recitation, but rather for trying to understand the world in which I live and how it has become that world, and to understand this, or even or scratch the surface, one must return to our roots. I have those study guides and all those materials from my humanities class in my office right now. It was during those semesters that I had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Now it is 35 years later, and I am still trying to understand it all. I want to know everything I can. I know that might sound a bit ridiculous to some, but to me it merely learning. It is absorbing and reflecting. It is trying to see where I fit in this complex and jumbled world. It is hoping (and last night helped me to understand that I do :)) that I make a difference. Yet, it is not about what I do, but rather what I might leave behind. That is what matters. It is hoping that what I do makes other peoples’ lives better. It is realizing that when I learn, I teach more effectively. It is realizing that learning rejuvenates me. It is believing that somehow helping others to understand both the world and themselves makes their part of the world a better place. I know that I have a limited time, but I am okay with that.

Es la parte de lo que realicé en las 24 horas pasadas cuando trabajamos juntos pensativamente e intencionadamente. Es lo que realicé y aprendí cuando le miré estudiar detenidamente nuestro proceso y reunir un juego profundo y revelador de preguntas que creo proporcionará una presentación asombrosa para aquellos que asisten a nuestra sesión en San Francisco. Mientras usted no está allí en la persona, usted está allí de un modo mucho más profundo. Su brillantez mostrará por sin el resplandor físico usted ha proporcionado mi vida. Gracias tanto.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

A Hard Teacher

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Hello from the bus,

We are on the way back to Bloomsburg after a day in the city. It was a busy day, and while we did things to expedite the time between events, it seemed the day was more harried and missing any free moments than ever before. I did have a good day and enjoyed my time with the students. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a couple better than I did. It is always interesting to here about the backgrounds and hear about how they got to Bloomsburg. Understanding the foundation a student brings to class or seeing how they conduct themselves in a non-classroom environment. Is always telling. Listening carefully to what one says is also another way to begin to have some insight into who he or she really is. Experiences with another are always the true test and the ultimate reveal-er of one’s true character.

As an English professor, and particularly one who considers how technology affects the writing process or one who considers carefully how language and document design work rhetorically, how one sends an email, for instance says a lot to me. This past week I received two emails from a student, neither of which contained a salutation not a signing of the student’s name. The lack of either element could demonstrate a couple of things. It could demonstrate that this student did not know better; it could reveal that the student was lazy and merely did not take the appropriate time not consider the audience. It could illustrate a lack of professionalism on the student’s part. Those would be the possibilities if I knew nothing about the student. Because I have some previous experience with the writer in this case, it is easier to come to a more accurate conclusion. Little do students seem to realize how both what is written as well as how it is designed reveals so much. Again, a history with this student makes coming to a conclusion much simpler.

I was listening to part of the soundtrack from the movie, The Last Samurai and one song in that soundtrack is the title for this blog entry. This time seven years ago I was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident and this particular coming weekend that same fall, I went back out to California to see Marco and I also visited the person who had so turned my summer upside down. What I do remember was preparing dinner and staying the night to listen and offer support, but I also remember needing to be a gentleman. That issue has been a title in an earlier blog and something that I have spent significant and intentional time managing. That is both a personal commitment as well as trying to obey my grandmother. It has been disconcerting to me that this very thing has been questioned a couple of times. It also reminds me that no matter how much one does, it is easy in some ways to have those values questioned. I think my intentional conversations about “being a professor is more than what I do, it is who I am.” has certainly helped. I actually made a specific phone call at one point about things raised that I believe impugned my character (this incident caught me completely off guard, I must admit). I was grateful for the words of someone I have known for the entire time I have been at BU (and this is not about either recent or upcoming journeys, I might add). I think about a promise made this past summer to a life-long person I love deeply and following through on that promise was significant to me. Sometimes, or more likely many times, doing the right thing is certainly not the easy thing, but I am sure it has saved me from other difficulties. Those difficult things are sometimes the hard lessons which test us. They are the very lessons we will learn the best and remember the longest.

Good morning, it is now Friday morning, and fortunately, I did get some sleep. As I was out in California seven years ago at this time, it was evident to me that the consequences of living in a situation that devalued one or treated them with disrespect caused a person to lose their own personage, if you will. I think of my own past, in an attempt to create a better marriage, (and this was my counselor’s assessment) I allowed myself to not only to be an abused person, but to remain there. One reading this certainly has the right to question the sanity of such an action, but when one has grows up a particular way, it is not surprising for him or her to gravitate toward similar situations, often without his or her realization that it is even happening. To change that pattern becomes a life-long struggle. Even after making progress in changing such a pattern, I am not convinced that anyone ever totally eradicates (and I use that word intentionally) the propensity for that sort of behavior. I have noted my own struggles with my own mother and that abuse in the past (see my July 11th blog), but what I have realized that my desire to give, which I have been told began before I was even two, was probably the result in my being abandoned as a small child. I should note this was from my biological parents. Well, while I am sure I did not realize it, but the fact that my grandparents with whom I then went to live both worked all day probably contributed to that sense of unease and loneliness. I learned that being helpful or useful made me valued; not that I had a clear sense of cause/effect at the age of two or even by the time I moved to my adoptive parents’ house when I was almost five. What I do know about myself is that I try to make other peoples’ lives better if I am given the gift of being a part of their life. It is something I do because I feel better about myself. That can, in and of itself, be seen as selfish. While that might not be my intention, it can become the consequence. That is really what I was trying to get at in an earlier blog. Anytime selfishness, perceived or real, is possible or actual, the result is probably going to be negative. I think that is the hard lesson I am learning at the moment. What makes that such a hard lesson is that giving is such a part of my fabric, my existence. It is one of the fundamental characteristics that most would probably note.

As I have been looking at the data, the theory, and the interpretation of all the information for the upcoming OSCLG Conference, it is impossible for me to not see how this fundamental part of me was part of the creation of a relationship that used words that are familial, relational, personal. It is a lesson in understanding culture, gender, and generation. It is an amazing transcript of real care and helps me see how I was instrumental in developing something of beauty, complexity, and substance. It is something for which I am grateful. It has been a learning experience and I am sure will continue to be so. It provided me a sense of something that has , or had, never occurred in my life and for that I am certainly blessed. I am sure there will be more lessons, and I have no doubt that some of them will be hard ones. However, anything worth having is worth working for, it is worth admitting when there are mistakes for which I am accountable. It is a gift because when such an amazing family allows you to be part of them, you are blessed. A good lesson to have learned. Interestingly, as I tell my students, social networking is something they must do. They must have a footprint. The paper being researched and presented is certainly quite the footprint, but one that was mutually decided.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Claiming Life

Good late evening from the acre,

I am actually just getting home from school and I have to leave for NYC in my morning at 6:00 a.m., which means I will be getting up around 5:00. It is 10:58, so it is going to be a quick night. Tonight my Foundations classes and I watched the movie, Finding Forrester as a way for them to consider the idea of “claiming your education”. I am continually amazed by the number of people I meet who seem to go through their lives just rolling “tumbleweed-like” controlled by the external forces that affect them. What is more unfortunate is most have little to realization that it is happening to them. I know that I have been guilty of this at times in my life. I also know there have been times where I aware of the outside forces, but felt that I have no control over those outside sources nor the ability to stand up the way I would like to do. I also know that some will argue that we always have a choice. The answer to that is technically the answer is “yes, we do.” However, when the consequence (that word again) is more extreme or malevolent than what we desire, we have less power over that choice than we want. More accurately, we do not have as much free will over the entire situation than we might believe.

Good morning from one of seats of a chartered bus with 47 #COBLLC students on our way to a full day in NYC, a day including time at the UN, time at The Met, a bit of time in Battery Park, Times Square, and finally on/off Broadway where we will see a play starring James Earl Jones. By the time we get home it will be midnight. I am hoping to sneak away to do some work while students are doing whatever they are today. I am trying to feverishly work on a presentation and do qualitative research on data for that presentation. I wanted to have more done on the analysis than I do. I should have probably tried to learn the program I did not even know existed. I know, sounds impossible, but what it means is I could have been more effective and thought ahead a bit more carefully. Of course, there is the issue that I did/do have other things on my plate than my fall research. That being said, this might be some of the best scholarly work I have done since my dissertation and that is exciting. I am reminded of my ex-wife’s shock and consternation that I got paid to go to school at one point because of some of the things we worked on. Hard to believe that a group of text messages might be the basis for my research agenda for the foreseeable future. I can see the communication theory issues which are the current focus. I can see a linguistic/cultural possibility because of the integration of Spanish and English and as a rhetorical scholar, to consider issues of rhetorical practice is always a possibility. In each case, it allows me the chance to learn about and reflect upon what has happened.

On one of the buildings on campus there is a concrete mantel that proclaims (and rightly so, I believe) “wisdom is the fruit of reflection.” I remember seeing it one of my very first days on campus as I walked from my apartment up to campus for new faculty orientation. Even now, each time I see it, I am compelled to think about the implications for myself. How do I go about reflecting critically about what I have become and how that person has made some difference in other’s lives. It is what Luther referred as understanding vocation. It is rather sad that the term “vocation” now means some sort of schooling for those not capable or interested in college. Vocation in Luther’s sense meant that you understood whatever “Deinem Arbeit”, “Su trabajo” is, you understand your daily “tasks” actually benefit those around you. Too many of us see our present or future work as something that is merely a means to an end, and that end Is our bank accounts or our retirement IRAs or 401ks. If I am going to be honest in my reflection, I sometimes wonder if the reason I see myself more vocationally, as doing something fundamentally efficacious, is because of the nature of the things I have done. It is an integral part of that position. I would like to claim that is it in part who I am also. However, when the basic nature of that position required/requires one to care for others, it seems I have the deck stacked in my favor. The other night I took a quiz on another social networking site and the two-word descriptor used was “selflessly caring”. That was a bit flattering because I do not do it as selflessly has I wish I did. That has been part of my own reflection as of late. Again, intentions and realities.

The semester is half over. I am stunned by how quickly things are moving. I am stunned thy we are almost through another calendar year. It has been a year of learning and of changes. While I believe Lydia will make it through another calendar year, I cannot imagine her making it to 91. Of course, she has already surprised me more times than I have fingers. I have always believed that I was placed in Lydia’s life to serve as a counter-balance to her pessimism. Every morning, I would come and fix breakfast for her. She would ask me, (imagine the strongest Österreich accent possible) “Michael, wie geht’s?” I would respond with “Ich tue fein, Lydia; ich habe keine Beschwerden.” She would either scowl, dismiss me with a hand motion and scowl, or perhaps merely respond “blah,blah, blah.” She could not fathom such optimism; I could not imagine such pessimism when I saw what she had accomplished. I will be headed back there soon. While I rue the drive, I will make it again. Actually, I am going to try to get back to California in both November and January. The November trip will be quick, but I am hoping January excursion will be a bit longer than my August trip. I called Marco and Belinda last night to set up the next trip. I also want to get up to Houghton to help one of my senior students get into graduate school there. I also need to get to Salt Lake City in December/January. More frequent flier miles. Meetings earlier this week provided opportunities for more work with the program. I think I will be busy, but that work will help the program and students and that is what matters.

Well, we are almost to the Lincoln Tunnel. It will be a busy day, but I know that students will both experience and learn today. I was able to get the three ACE students able to come with us today. They are all exceptional students. I need to find out if they got into the briefing at the UN. I have been reflecting on the previous excursions. Each one has taught me something. Each one has provided a different memory. The first trip we were in Rockefeller Center and I saw Bill O’Reilly, not that I am any sort of fan, but I was sitting a few feet from him. Seeing my first Broadway production was quite amazing (it was Wicked, which a good first choice). The second trip, I actually spent some time alone and that was enjoyable merely exploring Times Square on my own. The auctioning of a poster at the production of Memphis was certainly an experience. Last year’s trip was memory was former students were now mentors (the same is the case now). I am missing Mariah and her boundless capacity to take charge and keep that beautiful smile on her face. It is also sad for me that Dr. Usry has missed another trip because he has been so instrumental in envisioning this experience for students. We are in Manhattan crawling our way to the UN. It should be again another chance to create a new page and claim the opportunity to live my life. As I am writing the traffic in Manhattan might make us late for our scheduled time at the UN. Time for revision perhaps.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Mi Terquedad

Buenas Días,

Es 3:30 y la lavadora y secadora son una vez más en uso. Es probable que lo qui quiero y lo que quiere mi cuerpo están en desacuerdo. Llamé un doctor antes de ayer y era capaz de conseguir una cita el lunes. Parece que otra serie de pruebas sanguíneas están en orden. También continúo perder peso. La semana pasada estaba perdido alrededor de cuatro libras. Una especie de había mantenido por casi 2 meses, fluctuando sobre 2-3 hacia arriba o hacia abajo, pero lo hemos codazo nuevos orificios en las correas.

Okay, writing that paragraph has taken me about a half hour. Unfortunately, I have not been able to work on my Spanish as much as I would like. One of the classes I am teaching this semester is a Bible as Literature class. It is actually one of the favorite classes I have the opportunity to teach. Some of that is because it ałlows me to use significant pieces from my humanities classes that I took as a freshman and sophomore at Dana College. I still have all those study guides and my notes from that three semesters. I remember taking the Oxford Entrance Exam at the end of that series of courses and scoring well enough that Dr. Nielsen said I would be “offered a chair”. Those were the words he used. I was stunned to actually hear that a person who had only had a 2.8 GPA out of high school could be considered for such an opportunity. Back to the class, perhaps some of the affinity for this class is because of the phenomenal experience I had my first semester here at Bloomsburg. That group of about 10 students were not the smartest (a couple of them were), but they created such an amazing learning atmosphere together. It was a three hour class and the time flew by. Yesterday in class I had one of the same things occur in the group as happened many evenings that first year.

I teach the class with higher expectations than a 200 level course and the department has encouraged me to do so. That being said, the course has been observed (with the exception of my FYW classes, which is half my load) more than any other class. One comment that I have most appreciated was that I am able to take complex material and present it in a way that students are able to grasp it readily (evaluation 2011). Yes, I know I cited, but I tell my students they must do it, so I must set an example. We were considering the inter-testamental period in scripture (the deuterocanonical books) and I was providing the corresponding secular history. It is the time from about 750BCE up until 100AD or so. This is the time in which Rome was found and becomes the empire and the period called Pax Romana existed. Pax Romana is actually longer, but I did not cover all of that. However, as I explained this period I got peppered with questions about a variety of things and as I provided answers without looking at notes, one student said, ” how do you know all of this and you can just remember it?” Before I could answer another student, one who has been in a previous course with me, chimed in, “You have no idea how much stuff he has in that gray head.” The class burst into laughter and I turned about 15 different shades of red. There are about 17 students left in the class. I began with about 23 (5 or 6 dropped when they saw the syllabus). Those left are an interesting combination of personalities and backgrounds. There are 5 or 6 who are members of CRU and they actually watch the movie on their own because they have CRU on Thursdays. The remaining 8 who were watching the second movie last night got to come to my house and watch it (The movie was Godspell and the earlier one was the Ten Commandments.). As we talked about the movie from the 70s, their comments were interesting, engaging and even amusing. The movie is 20 years before they were born and when I first saw it I was about their age.

It is now Sunday morning and I am trying to get a great deal accomplished this next week. On Friday evening, I had an almost three hour conversation with Melissa and her father. That conversation was difficult, but significant. It was also another experience I can add to the list of reasons that I am blessed to be considered part of their family. The last thing I said to Sr. Galán before I left that night, while standing outside, was I am both blessed and petrified by their love for me. Let me provide this overview of the conversation (the conversation was Friday and I spent the Saturday, in NYC , with Sr. Galán. I had also written part of this before on my iPad, but over-rode it with my iPhone, so I am re-composing). In the 6 weeks since school has begun, both Melissa and I have been confronted with the demands of the semester. I will only write about my side of this at this point. While there were hopes, and from my perspective a commitment to try to check in with one another that did not occur as I had hoped or believed we (and I use the first person plural here intentionally) intended. Then, as I have a penchant for doing, took that more personally than I should. The typical consequence for me then is to be hurt. I am much more fragile than most realize. If I look at the bigger picture that hurt caused me to react in a way I felt I could hoping to get out what I needed and keep my head on somewhat straight. As you who read know. That was to write. However, words written in hurt, words written while feeling hurt, can be problematic for two reasons. First, the hurt might cloud what you actually heard and as a consequence, what you write is not as accurate as you might believe it to be. Second, as a larger and more significant consequence, it could cause, and I have created, a larger difficulty.

During the conversation,I am not sure Melissa and I accomplished as much as we might have hoped. At least that is my perception. I cannot and should not speak for her. Her father listened intentionally, thoughtfully and carefully. After what I felt was more of an argument than a conversation between Melissa and me, her father asked to interject. What he shared next on a variety of points was insightful, helpful, and striking. As has been the result on more than one occasion, it ended up with me in tears. I am well aware of his ability to see the heart of people. I am always stunned when he demonstrates that ability. He again noted my importance to their family. He also posited that he does not believe that Melissa’s positions or descriptions were meant to be hurtful or offend me. I must admit that her decisions about attending the conference were based on incomplete knowledge of a situation and I cannot hold her accountable for a choice that was made with the information she had at the time. She has never been accepted, nor slated to present at a national (actually international) conference. Nor, like 99% of undergraduates, her research is not subjected to things like IRB approval. She has a ton of stuff on her plate and her decisions were made primarily in response to that. Long story short: we are committed to the paper and co-presenting. Her willingness to follow through on that, realizing the consequence for me, is something for which I am grateful. I also understand the larger consequence of the past couple weeks and for the difficulties or harm I have caused a relationship I so value, I offer this public (at least in this venue) apology. As I told her father yesterday I would do, I have gone back and edited blogs and revised entries composed over these past weeks if it was shown that I mistakenly wrote something. At this point, we will work professionally to create a strong and scholarly presentation. I think the paper and the research will be revealing to us both. I can say as I have looked through the the first 350 pages of data, they demonstrate our both taking a chance and trusting what was there from the outset. It is ironic that in the course of a couple weeks I have so damaged that. For that, again I apologize. I should note that I believe the damage is because I let my emotions speak for me more than my brain. My pain allowed me to be stupid, to say things I shouldn’t of said. I would also note that such an occurrence seems to take place when I feel hurt or rejected. When I have invested so much of who I am in that situation. I think a regular reading of my blog will reveal that flaw in me also. The consequence for me is that I’m not as unconditional as so I would like to believe. I’m sorry for that failing. I understand it is my humanness, but I still can strive to do better. Mr. Galán said it is due to something much bigger. As often seems to be the case with both he and Melissa, they are correct.

While I have a meeting yet tonight for a second trip to NYC within a week, I am also headed to the Fog and Flame to continue to work on this research and do some grading. I am also meeting two students who I had in class as summer freshmen, and they are graduating this semester. We are going out to dinner. They are so enjoyable individually and together is merely exponentially better. As I noted in passing, I went to see the musical the Last Ship yesterday. It was stunning and there are not enough positive adjectives to describe it. At one point, I was crying as I watched. There was no weak performances by anyone in the company. Every element of the musical was simply phenomenal. My two friends are going next week. I am so excited for them to see it.

Well, as I noted, and was actually one of the earlier exchanges in the data being analyzed, and as noted in the title, I am stubborn. That can have consequences. My stubbornness and pride kept me from loving and caring the way I have been loved and cared for. I let both Melissa and her family down. I should note that is my assessment. They, in fact, demonstrated that their love is more profound than I am often able to comprehend. In spite of my feelings, my failings, they still love me. All I have created for myself is a difficulty. I need to be better. Ironically the things that I said were done to me, instead I did. Lately I have been more self-centered and selfish than I realized. I have read through our texts I realize the amazing relationship that has been created. I saw it as a gift from the beginning and so it is. It is precious and fragile, yet enduring. The Galán family has changed my life. They have helped me to grow, to trust, to love. I am truly blessed by their presence and I pray that I have not lost too much nor damaged something so precious that it is beyond repair. Time will tell.

Thank you for reading,

An imperfect Dr. Martin