¿En que agujero colocar? or A Mother I never knew

bucket list

Hello from my office,

It has been a hectic week and there seems to be very little change in sight. I know that some of you think I enjoy the merry-go-round, but that is really not the case. It the literal sense, I get sick on merry-go-rounds, but in the figurative sense, there are certainly times I want to jump off, but I do not believe life offers such an option. We are headed into finals and while I do not have many final exams per se, there is still more than enough work to do. The last few days have been rainy, though today is not so. It is a bit overcast, but not quite as chilly, but the next few days call for more rain. At least it should help germinate the grass seed I have planted.

Earlier this week was the 8th anniversary of my younger sister’s passing. I noticed that a few people I might have expected to note that day did not do so. Though I have heard since and noted comments that cause me pause. Families are such interesting organisms, and I use that word intentionally. Even since I began this posting this morning I have received some other news, albeit it 7 weeks after it occurred, but that in and of itself speaks volumes. My last parent, either biological or adopted, has passed away. I was just informed that my birth mother passed away the 11th of March, and actually I was not told, I read about it when someone else in my extended family was told about it. Her response to the news was quite different. I meet my mother on two separate occasions in my life. The first was when I was 23. I was in Texas on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with her and I met what would have been my step-father at that time. Because it was the first time I had met her that I could remember, it was a bit strained for both of us. I remember asking a lot of questions, which was probably a bit unfair, and receiving few if any real answers. It was not a particularly helpful meeting. The second time I met her was when I was in my early 40s and we were living in the same town. When a half sister asked if she wanted to meet and have dinner, her answer was a rather curt, “No.” Even at 40 something, and even though I had basically had no relationship with her, this still hurt me. Perhaps because I was hoping she would want to know more about me. Perhaps because I still wanted her to be proud of who I had become. That was not really what happened. Even though we did end up spending time together during the 6 months I was back in my birth state, there was not really a getting to know each other or move beyond the surface. I will say that the circumstance with my birth family was strained when I left, and that was because of my own doing, but I made the decision to move on and a conscious decision to leave them behind has had it consequences. The last words my mother and I used to address each other through an email was certainly not kind or conducive to establishing any relationship.

So what do I have from my biological parents and a sister with whom I grew up. I have some half brothers and sisters, I have some nephews and nieces, but I have no relationship with any of them. This is a decision that I have made. It is one that I have rethought at moments and one that has caused some sense of regret at other times, but what it has done most of all is create the question that is a part of this title? In which hole do I fit? I do, and probably more often than not, feel like I fit many places sort of, but for the most part I feel like I really do not fit anywhere. Perhaps that is why I go everywhere. Perhaps that is why I have not lived in anyone place very long. If you have read my blog for any length of time, this issue of belonging of figuring out my place is nothing new. It has plagued me like a reoccurring virus throughout my life. This is not to say that I do not believe there is nothing positive in my life. I have been, and continue to be, blessed. I have so many things that many people do not have and I certainly realize that, but those are things. Things do not make a person. Stuff does not matter when it comes to the end of one’s life. Indeed, $300 million dollars did not add a single extra day to Prince’s life. The money and music he leaves behind can certainly make a difference for others, but I wonder how lonely it must have been to pass away in such an estate all alone. Was he frightened or at peace? Is it how he might have hoped to pass?  I asked about my mother’s passing and got little to no information. I have looked for an obituary in a couple of different papers, but I have found no information. Texas has some pretty ridiculous rules about accessing vital records I have found, so I will have to figure something else out. Of course, there is the question of do I really need to know any more and what difference will it make?

As I move into the last week of my 7th year at Bloomsburg, it will be a week of grading and managing the plethora of things that always characterize the end of the year. There are issues that need to be managed beside grades and I think it is one of those times I need to create a list and merely commence working through what promises to be a lengthy list. It is always a bittersweet thing to see students leave. I am so proud of their accomplishments and whatever small part I might have played in that. It is such an amazing thing to see their transformation from a freshman to a graduate student in some of the cases this semester. They have so much ahead of them and the world is such an exhilarating, overwhelming, and even frightening place. I am not sure we felt any of these things with the same intensity in 1977 when I would have been the age students graduating currently are. It is interesting how those things change. When my older brother graduated in 1969 (from high school) the Vietnam War and a draft were an issue;  a short four years later, the draft was gone and Vietnam was finishing up. College and the reason to be there had already changed for blue collar kids, and I was one of those. My path through the education system was very different than most of my PhD colleagues. I guess my path in life seems to be different than most. While I have had help and care throughout my life, it was not really from a family, it was from a more globalized village if you will (Sorry to sound a bit like Hilary Clinton on this). However, it was not a village watching out for me, it was creating my own village. I guess that is what I have done most of my life. I have learned to surround myself with people who matter or have allowed me to matter to them. While it has worked for the most part, it too has had some significant import. It has created a sense of belonging, but never quite getting there. What I have a tendency to do when I feel like I cannot make something work or I cannot quite fit is to run away. Again the repercussion of this is I lose things and people. What ends up happening is I am the rolling stone (and I do not even really like that group), never quite slowing down enough to make any substantive difference. Or at least so it seems.

I remember in high school being parts of some things, but never really being a significant part of anything. Part of that was because I was such a frightened person, in spite of the fact that no one probably knew that. I was so frightened of my adoptive mother and her anger. That is why my paternal grandmother was so important to me. I knew she loved me no matter how immature I might have been. I wonder what happened to some of the people that worked for her. There was one girl in particular. I still remember her name. Then while I excelled in the Marines, I did not really like it. Again, I had no idea who I was or where I fit. Returning to Iowa after that did little to help because the return to my adopted mother’s realm did little to help me. I was also stupid and without focus at the time. It was the death of a couple important people and a handgun accident that caused me to reassess what I was doing and where I might go. Certainly the year on LYE team was formative and, of course, led me to Dana College. It was there I began to understand my capabilities and that I had more intelligence than I thought. It has been in school that I have found most of my worth or has been a place where I can feel I have something of worth. Yet, as I often do, what gives something worth, and who decides? Is it merely perception? I know that my experience in a tenure track position in Wisconsin was very different from the experience I have had her in Pennsylvania. I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy the interaction with colleagues and with most of the students. It is interesting and fulfilling to work with students from different majors and backgrounds.

As I am sitting here at the #FogandFlame, as I often do, grading, blogging, and doing other work necessary, I am also listening to my iTunes (or Pandora and I know I am supposed to change to Spotify to be a bit more hip). If you would look at my musical collection again, you would be forced to question: ¿En que agujero colocar? This morning I have listened to Sam Smith, John Legend, Toby Keith, Prince, David Guetta, and the United States Naval Academy Band. Hmmmmm? Where do I fit? On a typical day I fluctuate between wanting to meet with some others to wanting to disappear in the crowd of people so I can merely go about my day. I think the response to my biological family and the pain that I felt in my adopted family caused me to both want and repel the idea of family. I go through phases where I need others and despise having them in my life. Where do I fit again? I am not sure I expected all that came out in this blog, but that is often the case. While there is a certain stream-of-c0nsciousness, but there is also a focus. Hard telling where I will end up of what I will allow in my life. Perhaps that was plan to this life. I am not sure, but in my meanwhile, I wake up in the morning and do what I need to do and hopefully do well enough to make a small difference. It is time to get back to grading.

Thanks for reading and good luck in this week.

Dr. Martin

You are kidding? What the French Toast? And “Time Passages”

IMG_4979

Hello at almost midnight on a Friday night,

The phrase of “when you least expect it, expect it.” something I used to say to others as a sort of admonishment or a tongue-in-cheek warning per se had come to roost today with an unbelievable vengeance. For the last two years, more off than on, I have had a sensitivity in one my upper molars, but with a tripe root canal and crown was assured that tooth could no longer be a site from which I should experience pain. There was just one issue, I had pain and the pain had become quite unbearable. So an emergency trip to the dentist after hours lead to a trip to an endodontist and an initial cut into my upper gum is leading to another more extensive cut into the gum and a surgery to seal root canals from the top down. However, that is next week’s fun and games. There is so much to manage before then. Yesterday I was speaking with one of my colleagues (one of my closest and longest-known colleagues) and he said when I retired it would take three people to cover what I have been covering. I am not sure that is entirely true, but it was quite a compliment. It does seem that things are only getting busier, they are not slowing down. However, I feel like I am falling short and should be doing more work. I think my reason for such a response is there is always more we can be doing. I also understand the dilemma in that statement, but we are not put on this earth to see how little we can do. That is certainly an option, but when we refuse to do our best, people have not sense of what our best is, and neither do we.

The other day I noted in my Facebook posting that I knew it would all get done, but I had no idea how. It seems the end of every semester is there. I am not sure how it happens, but it does. I wish the misperception that we only are contracted 17 hours a week was really the case sometimes. I do understand that this is the idea that we are only contractually obligated in a certain place at a certain time has a modicum of truthfulness, but that is certainly not how we manage our positions. It is as another colleague noted today (and as Martin Luther noted so eloquently over 500 years ago), there is certainly a difference between a job and a vocation. Dr. John W. Nielsen, with whom I had a wonderful opportunity to speak a few weeks ago, once noted the difference between a professor and a teacher. While teaching is about a classroom and how we impart knowledge, a professor is about a lifestyle and what we do with every ounce of our fiber. It is not what we do, it is who we are. During this past week there was a legislative assembly for the faculty union. While I know the view of unions (and understandably so) is varied, there is a lot a opinions regarding the efficacy of the union structure. If one returns to the reason for the development of unions to begin with, not as much has changed as we might like to believe. The reason for unions was to protect the right and safety of the worker. It was because of the greediness of the corporate structure, and, by extension, the greediness of humanity in general. News Flash!! Humans are still greedy, and more and more, the administrators at the top of educational systems (and the Wisconsin System in which I once worked, which is totally off the rails, and the Pennsylvania System in which I currently work seems to want to follow) have decided that education is a f-ing business. When the chancellor can say we are “leaner and meaner,” when he can tout that we are 900 employees less than 8 years ago, but employees refers to faculty, but he refused to refer to us as such, at least at that point, I am sickened. When he thinks somehow 12 credits a semester is enough before a credit-by-tuition kicks in (and it has worked well), when it takes 15 a semester to get to 12o in four years and so you have just raised tuition on the entire student body with no negative consequence (not just to enrollment or retention,  but for additional minors or other programs to help a student be more prepared for the 21st century world), I want to sit him down, buy him a Starbucks, even though I have no contract and continue to work,  and probably note, “It seems that you neither majored in math or economics.” While he has a degree in education, it is certainly evident by his latest remarks to the Pennsylvania House Budget-Appropriations Hearing, his move toward being an administrator that seems to focus on cost versus quality of education is painfully evident. I am saddened to hear this particular soliloquy about our system. As a faculty person, when the chief academic person of the system seems to be selling the faculty out, it is hurtful. I will admit he is rhetorically astute and says the right things in front of this committee, but there is so much behind what he is saying that is unspoken. I would also note that Pennsylvania has a legislature that is the least educated in the country. That does not bode well for appreciating a college degree or what it takes in anyway shape of form.

http://www.apscuf.org/blog/item/366-watch-highlights-from-last-months-budget-appropriations-hearings

In the meanwhile, as seems to be the case, the faculty will be made out from the local paper to the halls in Harrisburg to be the problem children. I do belong to a faculty union called @APSCUF, and I am proud of that membership. I know from working in Wisconsin where a governor and legislature gutted the teaching ranks what can happen. Many will say, “We want too much. We are the greedy.” We are unwilling to work with the system. I am sorry, but I disagree. In  our last contract we did not even get a cost of living raise in any year of the contract. We worked for 19 months without a contract. Now we have worked another 10 months without a contract. Where are we the greedy when we come to work each day and we work hard to educate, to work in and out of the classroom, and to make a difference in the lives of so many students? Illustrate or show me where I am being greedy. In the seven years I have been here, I have lost steps, which affect my retirement in three of them. Has that happened to a single administrator? I dare say, “NO!” I am not asking for the moon. I am not asking for less work. I am not asking for anything, save being treated fairly. Contrary to a chancellor’s or provost’s contention, I work more than 17 hours a week. I am, in fact, required by my State Legislature to fill out a semester report to show that I somehow work full-time and I  would love for them to follow me around for a week. I know that there are a number of sides to this issue. I know it is complex, but how can we be called a state system when less than one quarter of our funding comes from the state? Since when and how did education become such a thing that it is vilified and treated as an unwanted or ungrateful step-child? That is what it seems. The local paper editor deems it appropriate to post everyone of our salaries in his paper yearly. Certainly I make more money than many, but I have worked hard for my education and what I make certainly is less than many who have less education than I. Again, I am not complaining. I do not begrudge what anyone makes, but it does call into question our priorities. I am a huge Green Bay Packer fan, and will remain so, in spite of this next comment. I believe Aaron Rogers is a phenomenal quarterback, and he seems to also be a very genuine and good person. Yet, is anyone worth his upcoming salary of $19,250,000.00? Yes, you read that number correctly. Again, he has a contract and that is what he is deemed to be worth. Since when is football worth so much more than education. I am not asking for that kind of salary. In fact, if I made that in one year, I would retire, invest and give to charity. I would buy a college in Blair, Nebraska and reopen it somehow

On Friday we had a second meeting of faculty and President Soltz. I ended up getting quoted in the local paper and as I spoke with a number of faculty at a gathering yesterday, the prevailing attitude was one of cautious optimism. I would like to believe and take him at his word as another colleague noted, at yet, another meeting. If we are about educating students, which I believe the great majority of us are, then let’s get on the same page. I am all about accountability, but micromanaging and response that seems (and when that word is a general belief, there is a problem) capricious or misinformed, at best, the consequence is an atmosphere of mistrust. It is pretty much what I see at the federal level with our elected officials. It is this mistrust that leads to frustration or anger and that is what gives rise to the demagoguery of a particular group of people or a candidate who capitalizes on this fear. I am frustrated by a lack of critical thinking that seems to characterize our American public in general. Today . . . yes more time has past since I had the time to write . . .  is the primary in New York. I was up until after 11:00 trying to finish up my own taxes last night. I wonder what tomorrow’s headlines will say if the front-runners on both sides win? What will be the spin for the others? Everything is spun in some manner. Perhaps that is life in general. It is a passage of time we try to understand, and something we spin to feel better about that world around us and ourselves. With that in mind, I share a song I remember and appreciate.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Trying to Manage the Pieces

IMG_4979

Hello from my snowy little corner.

This past weekend saw the first major snowstorm of the season for Bloomsburg.This was true when I first began this post at the end of January. It is now early April, and in spite of a mild winter I am flying back into the probability of 2-4 inches of snow this evening. Back to the original post.

For me it meant the literal dusting off of the snowblower, and the reality of dealing with a redesign driveway and sidewalk wish necessitated much more snow removal than previous winters. I spent somewhere between three and four hours behind the snowblower, but that did little more than remind me of my time in the upper peninsula where snowblowing was a daily task. So the nearly a foot of snow that fell was nothing more than a nuisance, but not really that much of a nuisance because it was neither cold nor windy. In fact, after the first two hours snowblowing eperience, I came in soaked from sweat rather than soaking through layers because of the snow. Furthermore, in comparison to most of the East coast, and some as little as 60 miles away, the approximate for the snow we got seems to be merely a dusting. It did make the roads a bit slippery, but a little common sense driving while going to the grocery store or out for my colleagues and friends to celebrate their birthday, was no big problem. . . . It is a week later since that snow and the fact I have not gotten any further on this blog is a clear indication of how the last week went. The fact that somehow this blog was never completed demonstrates a pretty clear picture of the semester. The other diffidence is that I have found myself going to bed earlier than I ever imagined possible. I have been in bed by 8:30 some evenings.

Mondays and Wednesdays are busy to begin with, but this past Monday I was once again called to speak with the Scott Township Zoning Board.  The attempt to merely get a variance continues and has continued even longer because an attorney missed the meeting. My neighbors, who are unparalleled by any imagination of a modicum of mutuality, regaled themselves in full force once again, but I appreciated their presence. The local press was there and so, after yet another meeting, they should have quite an interesting story to tell. If even an inkling of this circus would have been apparent back in the spring, I am sure I would have done things very differently. The adage of live and learn is certainly apropos at this point. One of the three are like little kids in a sandbox; if they don’t get their own way they will complain and whine, threatening to take the toys home. The second generally act kind to your face, but are having conversations up and down the block, complaining about the new person in the neighborhood. The third of the group seems reasonable and had been for the most part willing to speak and to listen. For my part, I have been very unreasonable because I widened the driveway to make it easier for the first of the three to back things up and into their yard. For the third, I am sure my irrational behavior is because I signed a right-a-way so they could get a gas line to their house. The second of the neighbors is three doors down the street; so it is profoundly apparent why a one-car, one-person, apartment should be such a tremendous hardship on them. The logic of all of this, in spite of my trying to understand the struggle, escapes me. I am quite sure whatever happens, there will be repercussions. It is the first time in 60 years I have ever struggled with neighbors. Then again, I have never felt so disrespected. The other evening they huddled together and refused to even speak to me. I know they will say I did not speak to them, but I felt a little gained up on: 6-1 is certainly not conducive to handshakes. As you know, if you have been reading, the variance was granted, the next couple pieces are pro forma at best. I will say that there have seemed to be few repercussions at this point in the neighborhood. As I turn back to the original posting, the following sentence has been proven true beyond my wildest imagination. The loss of Bekah at the early age of 38 still seems to be something contrary to reality, but it is painfully true. The loss of other’s who are parents or grandparents seems to be occurring on an alarmingly regular basis.

There are certainly more important things than this continued foolishness. Work is tremendously busy. I already have papers to grade and blogs to read. I am supposed to go to an event tonight, but I have too much on my plate and I need to go into this week on top of things. I could probably pull an all-nighter this evening to be optimally prepared. Tomorrow, again, to the chagrin of the trying-trio, I am having a gathering of students who were on the Poland trip at the house. Car-pooling will be optimal and I will work hard to manage the parking. Today I shopped for various and asundry items and yesterday I ordered food. I think it should be enjoyable. I am going to do some of my own cooking, but the majority I am having brought in. If you are reading now you are probably wondering if you entered a time warp. I have decided to resurrect this post. . . . So if you have been able to follow this sort of Faulkneresque posting, indeed I jumped back and forth from when I originally wrote in late January and early February to the first weekend in April. As I write now, I am descending into Philadelphia and they are warning of turbulence. Indeed, it has begun. It was a bit bumpy, but I survived as you see because I am still writing. By the time I got home tonight I had more excitement as a former colleague decided to stop by. That is a sad and entirely different story for another time.

It is already the middle of the week and I am not finished with my work. I guess that illustrates clearly that l am working diligently, but sometimes not as successfully as I would like, to manage all the pieces. It is always the case at the end of the semester. I need to keep my head down and manage what is coming. It is life and everyone has these times. I think it is time to head out and publish this. Dinner tonight with the Polish students is the next thing on the agenda.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

A week of disjuncture 

  Good early morning from a van (traveling with students to NYC), 

Needless to say I am not driving. It is a bit ironic that I wrote an earlier entry much like this March of 2014, but I was on my way back from NYC with José, Melissa, and Jordan after seeing Stomp. Today I am going to see The Crucible. Sunday was Easter and that holiday is so different from when I was a parish pastor. Easter might be the most attended service of the year for many churches and it was the finale of a very long week in terms of number of services and energy needed to manage the week. I have to admit there are things I miss and things I do not when it comes to that week. This Easter I had 10 people for dinner (including myself) and spent significant time making paella and a variety of other things for Easter dinner. It turned out pretty well and I worked to accommodate palates and preferences. I have learned that it is pretty easy to be flexible. 

By the end of the day I was tired, but content. What I have noticed is that I have begun to be in bed (with relative frequency) by 9:30 or even earlier. I will almost always wake up at some point, often around 2:00-3:00 in the morning, and I am up for some time reading, but I usually go back to sleep. . . . When I was in Ireland a couple weeks ago, I became aware of the approaching Centenntial Celebration of the Easter Uprising. It was hard to not want to be in Iteland to see how they would commemorate this. There were a number of posters and other  placards noting a variety of events. For those who are unfamiliar, this uprising is really the beginning of Irish Indepedence.   I did not realize that such a significant event was so close to my visit. Ireland is an amazing country. The beauty of its land land and the warmth of its people are hard to describe because of the depth and degree of its reality.  The accent is sort of the icing on this emerald cake. I could listen to their speaking everyday and not grow tired of it. I’ll tell us (please re-read the previous lines in your best imagined accent.). Since coming back, not a day has passed that I have not thought of the scant or brief 5 days I was there in Corcaigh. I am wondering how such a significant holiday as Easter, as both religion and independence, would change my perception of that holiday. I was also shocked that Ireland as a Republic was so young (there was the mistaken perception because we were considering a Eurpoean country, independence was something more from the Middle Ages. Perhaps it was because Scotland is such a different situation. 

As I moved into Monday, the reality of the week ahead and the fact that the semester is rapidly drawing to a close sort of slapped me square along side my head, much like a sixth grade teacher did to me when I failed to listen to her instructions once upon a time in my life. Today, the teacher would have been in trouble. Back then it was me who was in trouble and any call to a teacher would have been to confirm my impetulance. Things have certainly changed in terms of requiring accountability. I got a phone call early Monday morning and the mother of a college classmate (a bit broadly speaking) passed unexpectedly. What I have been reminded of yet again is the giftedness of the days we are granted. In part because we know not how long we have, but more importantly because we are given so many opportunities to make a difference, but we seldom notice or take the time to do so. While the interaction had been merely beating on each other in Trivia Crack, connecting the dots in the 30 years since Dana has been an unexpected gift. The opportunity to have students attend another performance On/Off Broadway is always a great experience. The students yesterday were mostly honors students, and not surprisingly were attentive, inquisitive, and thoughtful. Seeing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was quite a remarkable afternoon. The entire Puritan/witch-hunt craziness amazes me, but more importantly it causes be great pause. Stunning how the perception of a few powerful males could turn an entire social order upside down, demonizing women because of ignorance and an unbelievably skewed scriptural hermeneutic. What is more frightening is we have not learned much in 350 years. Arguments made this week by the person, whose name will not be spoken, concerning abortion and a woman’s right to privacy are simply shocking. It is because of the money that gives license to speak such absurdity? Is it because the media continues to salivate, like Pavlak’s dog, waiting for the next profoundly stupid utterance, reporting it wide and far and thereby keeping this imbecile on the front page? While I am probably as aware  of the comparisons as some, and perhaps more deeply connected to those comparisons than most, how did the German people react to the vilification of anyone whom Hitler deemed unworthy of being part of his Aryan clan?

When I was in Poland in January, and particularly when we visited the Jewish Quarters or Ghettos, or while standing in the midst of Nazi flags in Schindler’s factory, or even a second spine tingling visit to Auschwitz, it is hard to fathom how the rhetoric used by the Third Reich was so unparalleled in its persuasion. Yet, I listen to what I find to be tremendously vulgar, horrifyingly stupid, and simply bizarre and yet tens of thousands flock to listen, and are seemingly bewitched to blindly strike out in violence and hate. I am sorry, but what is happening is more than anger. I believe, as a white Midwestern male that too much of this reaction is an attempt to return us to a pre-women vote, pre-civil rights era of Good Ol’ Boy political corruption. These battles were fought and significant progress was made when I was in elementary school. Are we, after a mere half century, willing to undo the progress made? Mob mentality vilified the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. A lot of that vilification came from the political power of the time. I too see more parallels in Donald Trump and his goons and the fools who seem to see him as the current Aryan savior. It frightens me beyond anything I have witnessed in my sexteganarian-aged existence. I am hoping that as the seemingly unequalled string of vitriol continues to fall out of his Editwild-haired head, all of the people maligned will gather to prove that we do not have to be a people who are coerced by the lowest common denominator of our humanity.

Today, two years ago, Jennifer, my niece, was visiting and presenting to my classes. About three years ago, Dan Riordan, my mentor and friend, was here to evaluate a program. Last year, I had just come back from visiting my best friend in life for one last time and I remember speaking with two people in Tampa about ALS treatment. Unfortunately, Peter did not live much longer. Facebook’s offering that allows us to look back at what was happening provides an opportunity to see a continuum of events that, when viewed together, create a rather unique, but enormously instructive sense of what we have been doing. It is striking how these kairotic snapshots can provide such a clear block or two of our quilted existence. So today, for those of you who read my blog with any regularity will not be shock that I am flying once again. Right now I am between Detroit and Des Moines (not trying for aliteration, but it is there) at probably 32,000 ft. Going to a funeral where I will see some people I have not seen in 30 years, half my life ago. Perhaps life is not as disjointed as I thought. 

Thank you as always for reading. 

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Writing to living or living to write

   Good Saturday morning,

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

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

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

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

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin, the wanderer)

Trying to Understand

bucket list

Good evening from Filet,

The stress of both 8 months and the last two weeks sort of culminated in the same afternoon and evening (a spans of about 5 hours). When I tried to renovate a barn (circa 1880) and after deciding in consultation that it could not be saved, I began a project that seemed to be a reasonable (and helpful) upgrade. After eight months of roadblocks, a lot of painful actions on the part of others, and more money and paperwork on things I could have not imagined in my wildest dreams, the desired outcome was achieved. It is still not a case of winning because feelings have been hurt and relationships have been strained. That was neither my intention nor anything that leaves me feeling like this is a great thing. I have never been one to desire confrontation, but on the other hand I do not like being bullied. I am pretty sure that the initial intention was not to be drawn out. I know that it surprised both the builder and my eventual attorney. Yet, there is still more to accomplish. I am not exactly sure when it will finally be completed, but it appears the most difficult part is finally behind me. There are still some survey issues, but I have left it to the attorney to figure them out. I too will be speaking with Multi-County Abstract.

In my last post, which was begun after this initial writing and posted before the writing in this paragraph, I noted the connection I feel between writing and thinking. If you have followed my blog with any regularity, you know that I am always pondering, questioning, imagining, and yet reflecting. On one of the building on campus (called the Ben Franklin Building) above one of the lintels is the following quote (one by Franklin? I am unsure, but it would be logical), “Wisdom is the fruit of reflection.” It is both a truism as well as something which inspires me. Wisdom is what academe is about. It is a foundational tenet of what we should be doing as professors. Again, I remember my first trip to Europe with Dr. John W. Nielsen. I was 25 years old, but he provided a thoughtful sort of homily on the word professor. He noted insightfully and passionately that the title itself meant more than merely teaching. It was the actual action of professing something, but it was all encompassing. It was not merely what one did, but it was who they were (btw, I am aware that some will argue an agreement issue here, but what is standard/acceptable in this context is evolving). I remember the conversation clearly, but I am not sure I imagined needing to reflect on it in such a vocational manner. There is a difference, however, in the role of the academic today versus when I was in college in the early 80s, and even more so as I walk into a classroom today. From what we need to know and for what we must prepare our students to how we deliver it in and out of the classroom, the evolution of the academy has been dramatic. As I sit in a class right now, I have tasked my students with coming up with a PowerPoint progress report of what they have done up to this point in the semester. This is not something they were aware of, and that was done intentionally. First, it is something that could happen in a real professional setting if one is working for a company or on a contract. Second, it pushes the students to realize exactly where they are in their process and that is important because the end of the semester is coming more quickly that they actually expect. It is easy to get lulled into some sense of comfort. The end of the semester is coming more quickly that they probably anticipated.

This past week has been a week of students seeming to find it difficult to come to class. I think they are still psychologically (academically) and, in many cases as exhibited by their absences, physically.  This is always frustrating to me, and I am not even entirely sure why that is the case. Perhaps it is because I did not skip classes regularly when I was a student, at any level (there was one exception, but I will not elaborate on that here). I do  believe I work hard to create classes that make a difference and where students walk out, particularly in the program courses, with valuable and life-long skills that help them be fundamentally more successful. From cover letters to resumes, from proposal writing to memos, from instructors to usability testing and reporting, all of these things happen in my technical writing courses. Everything builds on what happens before and to fail to participate regularly affects both the student and their group. This is one thing that always frustrates me more than anything else. It has shown up in more areas of my life as of late than I would care to imagine. While I am certainly not perfect, and I drop the ball at times, I am usually willing to take accountability for that mistake. My willingness to help is coming back to bite me and I am going to spend most of the morning trying to put all of that together. I know that situations happen; I know that the unforeseen can mess up our best laid plans. Yet, it seems I have a propensity for being willing to jump in to save before I consider all of the consequences. Those who know me, even a little, are probably shaking their heads, both in agreement and in a kind of dismay that I make similar mistakes again and again. I am learning, but as I often say, “I am a SLOW learner.” – and that is certainly the epitome of understatement. The struggle with that is I get myself in trouble because I stress myself out over the consequences. The work I need to do today to manage all of this is going to keep me up for the next couple nights to try to gather all the paperwork to put the pieces together. Idealism is a dangerous thing. My wanting to see the good and believe there is good in all people has been a downfall at times. In spite of what I write here, I am not bitter, but merely battered about a bit. It will be a long rest of the week, but hopefully, I will get it figured out. The other difficulty for me is that these things can overwhelm me and then I shut down. However, I am not in a position to shutdown. There is too much to do and too many people depend on me doing what I am supposed to do. I think it might be a 24 hour work marathon if I am to get all my ducks-in-a-row. The Statler Brothers’ song, “Class of ’57” comes to mind at the moment.

When I came to Bloomsburg, it was a beginning of my life in a very different way. It is hard, at times, to imagine that I have been here for 6 and a half years. I was mentioning just yesterday that it was the longest I have ever lived in one place since I graduated from high school. I do not think I believed I would have had a rather nomadic life that it has turned out to be, but that is what has happened. I have, a number of times, realized that I am probably destined to be more like my Uncle Clare than I might have imagined. I have to admit there are moments that such a prospect for the end of my life frightens me. Yet, in spite of his seeming curmudgeonly demeanor, he was genuinely grateful for things and people. What I think most amazed me about him to this day was his love for reading, and I think he taught himself to read. Second, it would be his knowledge of plants and animals. In today’s world he would have been a conservation officer or a game warden. I think he would have been terrific in such a position. There are times I still miss him and I smile when I think of him driving around his 1965 Chevrolet Impala. I think he might have had a car after that, but somehow, I do not remember what it was. I think about coming in his back door and his house always looked the same. I think there were things he never changed from when Gladys, his wife (and my father’s eldest sister) passed in 1960. He was born in 1896 (I had mistakenly thought 1892) and was 93 when he passed. He was still as clear as could be and as cantankerous as one could ever fear. I am pretty sure I will not be that clear. I forget more things than I want to admit (keys, checkbook, what I went into a room for, where I put things, and planning a sort of laundry list of things and not remembering some of it immediately afterwards).  I must admit that some of this scares me. When I consider my genetics (as an adopted person), I am not exactly sure what my propensity for Alzheimer’s or dementia is. If I consider my adopted family, which is still part of my biological family (again a long story that I will not attempt here), I know that if I follow their traits, I am in deep trouble. I do wonder at times with my other history if I will make it to the point where I might have to experience such a difficulty, but then again, as noted, it seems there are already some red flags. It is something upon which I need to focus, and probably sooner rather than later.

Significant time has really passed since I first began this post, and my initial title still stands. There is so much I understand, but there is still much more that I seem to witness and experience that causes me pause. I do wish I had more figured out, but somehow, the infamous when I think I get something squared away, circles are more in vogue. What I do know is there are no guarantees and just when something begins to make sense, something else will change. I cannot remember who said this, but something like (paraphrased) the only thing constant is change itself.” It seems there are some truthful clichés out there after all.

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

 

Grateful for a Life, but One too Short

bekah 1

Hello on a cold, but manageable day,

It is in the single digits outside and for Pennsylvanians, but I actually like this kind of weather. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of being small. Perhaps it reminds me of the times I would play in the yard one particularly snowy winter and we made snow forts and tunnels in the yard. Life was simple then, or at least I thought so. Today is a day for me to focus and catch up. It is a day when FB has helped with its little Valentine’s wrapping of a message to make them more festive and to offer thoughts to those who matter to us. I remember as a small boy always feeling different about this day because my father would get chocolates for my sister and my mother, but we did not really get as much, so I learned indirectly (or directly) that Valentine’s Day was about females and not for males. Not that I felt that left out after the first time or so, but rather it was a different time I think. I am pretty sure my father was not trying to slight my brother or me.

As I have sort of a propensity to give to others, I tried to make sure that I did not forget Valentine’s Day for that other person when I was an adult. There was once before I was married that I did not to a particularly good job of managing this holiday and I was in deep trouble. That left a lasting impression to this day. I remember another time that Susan, my ex-wife, got her hair cut really short a day or so before Valentine’s Day and I did not know this was in the mix and she came home. My response, unwisely, was something like, “what the hell did you do to your hair?” She began to cry and there was no making up for that on Valentine’s Day, which was within a couple of days. It can be a difficulty for us as humans to adequately express our feelings. Then there is the sense of shouldn’t we just let the people we love know this daily. I am certainly not the first nor the last to call this Happy Hallmark Day. . . . What does it mean to love someone?  I have learned all too often that my love, or what I believe to be love, is sometimes selfishness. Not that I hope to be selfish or that I would intend to be so, but rather that my love is not nearly as unconditional as I might want. Perhaps that is the question, can we be unconditional in our love or in our giving to another? I certainly want to believe in the possibility, and yet I know even when I’m most well intended, it seems I’m always hoping for something in return. At this point, maybe it’s because I’m just merely getting old. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide if I want my solitude or I’d rather have someone around. Yet another Valentine’s Day has passed and according to some research in my class the other day over $1 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not saying we should fail to demonstrate the love or care we have for those who are important to us. Perhaps when I am questioning is what it really means to genuinely love someone. I think, in part, is that I still have this hopeless romantic inside of me hoping for that head-over-heels person. There’s also the realist in me who feels such a situation at this point in my life is unlikely at best. It is not that I’m depressed by such a reality, but rather I wonder how my life (and as I originally wrote, in a Freudian-way, “wife”) might’ve been different.

A few days have passed since I started this post, and ironically the experience that I wrote about in my immediate past blog has ended. Rebekah has lost her battle to remain on earth with us. She passed away this afternoon, after battling as well as she could against enormous odds. To lose someone in their 30s, in such a shocking and unfair manner, is always difficult. As my father said almost 40 years ago, “Parents are not supposed to bury their children.” There is nothing that can prepare someone to face such a tragic circumstance. It was heartbreaking to see her last evening, but it was abundantly clear that death would be a compassionate visitor rather than something to push away. That being said, nothing can remove the hurt or sadness that comes when someone so young faces the end of human existence as we know it. Could it be true that Bekah happened to be in that laundromat for what would occur this week? If I had not met her that day, the last 5 1/2 years of her cleaning, calling, coffee-ing would not have happened, but perhaps more importantly, in my own piety, God would not have been able to use my background in being there with her and her family. As I often say, I do not believe God causes bad things (again, my piety and my opinion), but I do believe that there is the possibility to use whatever happens to bring us together in ways that we are able to support and care for others in ways we could have never anticipated. Why is it that some make it through things that they never should and others have a seemingly simple thing be life-changing?  . . .  It is now Thursday morning and a phone call last night, which was wonderful and needed, kept me from writing, so before I dive into the other things of the day, I am hoping to finish this and post it. Looking in the paper this morning, there was no announcement or obituary for Rebekah, but last night I found myself merely being quiet, listening to some music, and allowing those songs to be my own Psalms of lamentation. Music is such a wonderful thing because it touches the soul in the way few other things can. When, as scripture tells us, that the pain is too great for words, the spirit speaks on our behalf. I believe the way music affects our spirit is exactly that happening when we cannot find the words because we are so overwhelmed. I spent time reading the responses and outpouring of care from so many people. That is one of the positive possibilities of social networking, but it certainly demonstrated the impact that Rebekah made in what most would consider to be a relatively short life. What has been particularly interesting to me was that she was not a picture posting person, particularly of herself. The number of pictures that appeared in the last week were quite significant, but to see the transformation of her over the years was really quite fun for me, as someone who did not know her nearly as long. I think that is what is so momentous for me. While I am a people person, though not as much as I used to be, Rebekah had a way of disarming one’s defenses. Her infectious smile and her willingness to be just who she was, as well as her ability to be feisty/spunky and simultaneously compassionate/charitable, could not help but draw you in. I often told her, on the other hand, I would not want her angry at me. Again the passion that was such an integral part of who she was could be a double-edged sword. Her eyes, which were the most amazing color, could telegraph exactly what would soon be spoken.

It has been wonderful to meet her brother-in-law, Bill and her sister, Chandra. The other evening at the hospital as I listened to Chandra speak, the voice was a carbon-copy of Rebekah. Perhaps I should say that Rebekah was a carbon copy of Chandra since Bekah was the baby of the family. The way in which they have received me into their midst has been such a wonderful gift. There is so much that can be said about Bekah, but I can only say this: Bekah, you allowed me to be in your life as you took care of part of mine. You shared your wit and humor; you shared your fears and hopes; you shared both the important and the seemingly mundane; through it all you touched my heart. I am a better person for it. You knew your time was precious and you talked about that. There are times when we fail to realize we are in the face of such beauty, grace, and goodness. As I have looked at pictures this past week, you have had a beauty and elegance to you from the very beginning. Indeed, you were such a person, a person of unparalleled charm, beauty and love. I will miss your kindnesses; I will miss your ability to make me smile and laugh; I will miss the times you called and said, “I need to speak to Michael.” I will miss our meetings at DD or CB. I will miss seeing the red VW that turned into the white Bug that followed me into my driveway or old barn. I will miss the smell of a clean house and the notes on a table that told me what I needed to do to get my act together. You are loved, and that will never change. Bless you, Bekah.

I share this with Chandra, with Bill, with Bekah’s parents, with Kayla, and with all of those for whom she made a difference.

To the rest, thanks for reading.

Michael (Dr. Martin)