A Week to Remember

  Hello from the diner,

The past week we have been told by numerous prognosticators that this was a historical week. Indeed, we have had two decisions that have revealed the change in our society and how publicly attitude about very significant issues can evolve. But what makes something historical? What makes someone evolve in their opinion? What creates a groundswell that causes something to paradigmatically shift? Usually it seems to take substantive time, and for those waiting, I am sure the passage of time seemed painstakingly slow. What does surprise me on one level, and yet again when thinking more carefully, causes no surprise, was the rapid change in position among politicians and others about the Confederate Battle Flag. Amazing that one event caused such a tremendous change in our collective response. This is merely my pondering, and I realize the following statement will be controversial, but could the focus on the symbol, which is complex, be a way to take away the focus on yet another act of violence that was committed using firearms? While I am certainly aware of the mixed use of events and the rhetorical strategy of misdirection (I wrote a dissertation on it), I too am amazed at how 50 years of what seems to be an inappropriate use of the “Stars and Bars” came to such a collective “oh my, what have we done.” in barely over a week. Maybe the fact that we live in a media-driven society (and I would include social-media-driven) and the fact that our current president is black and has spoken out more publically, in spite of the disdain on some, perhaps because collectively a large enough segment of people have said, “Wait! It is time to question more vehemently!” created this perfect storm of sorts. First, and probably to the shock of some of my more conservative friends, I am not saying that the flag of General Lee’s Army of Virginia should be stricken from our collective national consciousness. Second, I am not saying that we should not allow it to be flown in places like museums or on historical places where not having it there would be disingenuous. I also know these previous statements are open to debate, but the intent is to say there is still appropriateness when this is done as a historical issue and not as a way to further an agenda of white supremacy. I also know some will argue I am asking to have my proverbial cake and eat it too. What I am trying to say is there is complexity in this issue.

The killing of nine black persons merely having a Bible study by a 21 year old, who professes such hatred and bigotry, is certainly cause for us to question that history. It is cause for us to re-examine how it is that 150 years after a war to address equality we still have so much hatred and disrespect based on little more than a difference in melanin. As I have noted, more times than I wish I needed to, why is it that we fail to appreciate or even attempt to understand the other. Again, this past week, I have both read about, and experienced personally, what I would deem to be “an unethical use of power.” In the personal situation, a small group, whom I understand are appointed to oversee speciifc issues and a solicitor again whom I imagine is hired, decided something based on hypotheticals and a pretty blatant misreading of a criteria. This seems to have been done because of their disdain for a specific group of people and how they have taken it upon themselves to be gate keepers. It mattered not what I planned to do would not include this non-grata group of individuals.

Another big issue of last week was the Supreme Court and while considered to be a conservative court, especially with John Roberts as Chief Justice, they issued two rulings that affect the fabric of our national identity in a monumental manner. I was a little shocked that they ruled on behalf of the administration concerning the Affordable Care Act. I was stunned that the vote was 6-3. The language of opportunity and right is part of this discussion. The president has noted that this judgment of the. Kurt affirms that health insurance is the right of all Americans. I am, again to the shock of my conservative friends, not totally comfortable with the use of the term “right” in this instance. I need to do more thinking or hear a better argument to convince me this is a right. I understand that was not the issue at hand in the cases before the court, but the use of that term following the decision is troubling to me. I will continue to ponder. The decision about marriage,which would have been the decision I thought might have been more likely to be beyond the 5-4 vote wasn’t. Yet, it did pass. Amazing what the roles of church and state still cause in this country. It is also interesting what people say about church and state and separation, but there is nothing in the constitution that uses that phrase. I am always amazed by what people pull out of context and see as some kernel of truth upon which they base way too much of their philosophy. I am dismayed at what I believe is the shallow way that most people consider so many of the complex issues that are part of our societal fabric at this point. How did we become such a society that is willing to merely hear things and not listen, to accept things and not ponder, to fail to question things as the truth, regardless of however ludicrous it may seem? Perhaps it was because I was in the service as a 17 year old. Perhaps it is because I have always been the person to question most everything. The way in which things are decided and the power of the United States Supreme Court awes me. While politically the three branches of government were meant to be a checks and balances system, it seem that the power of the president to appoint that justice is probably the most important thing a president does. Certainly the Senate in its ability to approve or reject that nomination is also powerful. The fact that a particular justice might be on the court for decades and the tenor of the court is so influenced by the specific make up its members that it boggles my head. What an amazingly powerful position. I do not remember paying as close attention to the final decisions of the court in the way I have this year in my entire life.

It is now been sweet and I have not finished my blog posting. It was the first week of teaching and, therefore, even thought I have not been writing blogs, I have been reading them. My students have begun their own blogs and I thin they are working pretty diligently to get things accomplished. As is the case in my life, more often than not, something comes along and makes what I thought would be a reasonable project a bit more difficult. I have found out that the properties back in WI and the lot lines what were thought to be and what actually exists on the deeds does not match up quite as expected. In fact, there are some significant issues. More work to do this summer.

In the meanwhile we are upto the July 4th weekend. I am going to Gettysburg today with Rachael and tomorrow I am having a sort of holiday/birthday cookout with my Dominican family. I also want to catch up on the other things I need to get finished up. The end of the summer will be here before we know it. I am still waiting on the building project. Hopefully something’s will shake out in the coming week. I need to do some other shopping today and as it always seems to happen, I have misplaced one of my wallets again. I think I have an idea, but that search will have to happen today also. I am thinking about my friend, Peter, today also. As I noted in a previous blog, the 4th of July growing up was spent with the Goedes at the Ike’s Club. I have a college colleague who has lamented the loss of these sort of family events. I think they still occur, but as our families seem more fragmented and separated, the idea of family reunions and such might be more the exception than the rule. While I am inclined to agree that the lost of the family unit like we grew up with has a consequence, I am not sure it is the root of all the evils we are facing. I am willing to say its effect is far-reaching however.

If my students read all of this, they might wonder if I too am going to write something relevant to class. Yesterday I asked them to consider this phrase (more accurately, a sentence): “the machine is us/ing us.” This is the title of a short video that was created by the Kansas State cultural anthropologist, Michael Wesch. Technology permeates and controls our life, and I am not merely talking about our hand-held devices. I am talking about our daily basics that we take for granted.: water, electricity, heat, transportation, and those other utilities that we called necessities long before FB called itself a social utility. Yet, the predominance of hand-held, data-rich, and seemingly unlimited-access phones, pads, and tablets have changed how we access, view, and comprehend the world as well as how we understand ourselves. What made this week different, a week to remember? For me it was people, places, and things, but the majority of it was discovered on my iPad.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Randomness (Sort of)

shoes and gunsHello from a rather interesting coffee shop in Jim Thorpe, PA, 

For the second day of the weekend, I am back at work and trying to get a number of things off my plate and get myself a bit more organized. It is Father’s Day and I am realizing too things: first that it has been so many years so I have been able to greet my father with that familiar greeting (and I wish I might have done it more effectively than I had), and second, what allows someone to be a father? Is it merely a chromosome? If it is, then I am not a father nor a parent because I have never successfully given said chromosome. Yet, as those who have taken the time to read this blog with any consistency know that I have pondered the being a parent pretty extensively. As I have looked at pictures posted on Facebook today, I see so many #TBT pictures of friends from throughout my life posting pictures of that male person who holds the name “father” and the subsequent importance in their lives. What is important in this thought process for me today is what makes someone a good parent, for either gender? I never thought I would be a soon to be sexagenarian (rather ironic term considering the topic) and childless or single. Not that I probably had a very clear sense of where I would be at this point. I was not a child who had a very clear vision of who I was or where I would be. That might be the reason I am where I am. That sense of place or belonging comes back to the fore for me. What I do know is that I was afraid I would not be a very good parent, not because my adoptive father was a bad parent, but rather because I was not sure how I would manage the difficulties or the struggles and I was uncertain I was capable of being the person I should be. But who is that person? What do we expect of parents? Is it the same today as it was when I was growing up? I am not sure it is. There are a variety of reasons that I posit that opinion. 

I am continually amazed (perhaps because I am serving in this capacity, albeit at the other end) how we have seemed to vilify education and educators, but too often I hear about things that are supposedly the “teacher’s” or “educator’s” fault. Things that have to do with behavior or basic decorum. That word is an old word, but it is a word that it seems we need to resurrect. Since when did it become the public (or private) school’s job to teach a young person manners, or appropriate behavior, or respect, or (fill in the blank). This past semester, in a first year writing course, on the first day when I laid out my requirements for the students and worked my way through the syllabus and my expectations, when I told a student he only had three absences . . .  and I did not differentiate between excused or unexcused, he informed me that “[I was] a dick.” He said this in the classroom in front of the entire class. Heaven forbid that I would tell him how to invest his money or require something in “my” classroom. At a conference not long ago, a faculty person for whom I have great respect noted the following thing. In what other venue, do you “purchase a ticket to attend” . . . (see this another word for tuition for a moment)and then choose not to go? I am pretty sure if most of my students had purchased a ticket to the Electric Daisy Concert (EDC) or to Lady Gaga or to this summer’s Stones concerts, they would cancel life to get there and yet when we “require” attendance in our classes, I become a dick. As an aside, the student dropped the course, even though it was a required first year course. I was not displeased that he decided not to take my course. One of the places I have actually learned to be somewhat of a father figure is in those first year courses when many students are struggling to find their footing. I do not make things easier in terms of requirements, but I help them understand and meet the requirements. I love seeing the growth that occurs for most from the time they are a wide-eyed freshman until they become a bit of a wide-eyed college graduate, but one with a bit more maturity and respect. That word seems to have lost some things. And it is not always young people.

I am so glad I am in Pennsylvania and no longer in Wisconsin, where the state legislature and the governor continue to attack education at all levels. Recently, the governor proposed yet another 250,000,000.00 (yes, that much) to higher education, but is willing to give that same astounding amount to an NBA franchise. So somehow supporting 15 people (and I understand there are workers at the facility) is more important than educating 182,000 students and employing 32,000 faculty (2011 figures). This logic or lack thereof is stunning beyond comprehension . . . and this bozo believes he should run for president (I know he has not declared yet). If he would somehow get elected, much like the COs of the Vietnam era, I think I would merely go to Canada. I do understand the cost of education has gotten out of hand and I know that we all share that burden, but since when did become an educator seem to be more of a problem than a help. It seems to me that is where we are. My local paper finds it appropriate to run a spreadsheet of all of our salaries every year, but does not provide much as far as background and what sort of sacrifices we made to get to the doctoral level or how we continue to work to be the best or most expert we can be at what we do. Again, it seems we have little respect for those to whom we entrust the education of our future leaders and those who will eventually be called on to care for us. Instead we blame those same educators when their sons or daughters do not perform or follow through on what they are called to do. I remember getting a failing grade in chemistry when I was a junior in high school. My father called the teacher, but not to give that teacher a hard time, but to get to the truth of the matter than his number 2 son did not provide. The consequence of my failure was being grounded to my room for nine weeks. My father did not castigate the teacher for my failure. The one time in my entire tenure in public school that I ended up in front of the principal for a fist fight, I was petrified. I had not only gotten my ass kicked in the fight, I was pretty sure it was going to get beat, both in the principal’s office and later that night at home. How far we have come when it is the teacher’s fault or it is the system’s fault or we needed armed guards at school because of violence. How far we have come when it seems apropos to call a professor a dick or it is reasonable to have weapons on a college campus. It seems rather than progress, we have fallen back into a time when the idea of survival of the fittest is about who can bully the best, shoot the fastest, or influence with the most money. This is not to say there are not positive things in our society today, but when one looks at the news, somehow we have lost more than we have perhaps gained.

This brings me to the next point . . .  fill in the blank again . . . . Columbine, Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston . . .  when is enough actually enough? Even on my own campus (or just off campus) students were shot last year. Since 1982, there have been 61 mass shooting in the country (Washington Post), and the great majority of those shootings occurred with legally purchased weapons. Another study counted 78 mass killings in about the same period (this study was done by Congress) and almost 550 people lost their lives. From 2000 to 2013 the incidences of these types of violence has more than doubled and six of the deadliest shootings in the US have occurred since 2007 (Washington Post). Again, note no where have I said get rid of guns. I began a conversation on FB today and responses from some of my more conservative friends, for whom I have a lot of respect because we came from the same college and learned many of the same things, have seemed to think I am anti-Second Amendment. I am not. In fact, I have noted this before in this blog. If you go back to that posting, I asserted that the question of gun ownership has to do with the issue of needing or wanting a weapon. The 2nd Amendment, again as previously noted is what allows us to even have a discussion about guns on any level. I think the entire question about availability and ownership is complex. What constitutes common sense questions and a common sense conversation? I think it is the same problem that becomes apparent when I ask my students what the goal of an argument is. They (and the majority of people)  will respond that the goal is to win. The actual goal of an argument is to get more information out and a better possibility of an appropriate decision made. However, we have such an adversarial precedent in how we manage so many things, it has become the way we seem to manage most everything. Hence, our loss of civility . . . And that loss creates a lack of respect and by extension, at least for me, a lack of care for life in general. I know those are some leaps, but I could break it down more, but tou would have the longest blog posting in history. 

As someone with a PhD in rhetoric, I am personally offended whenever someone says, “It is just rhetoric.” They have little idea how wrong they are. The use of rhetoric is fundamental to whom we are. It was once on the the basic elements of education. Perhaps if we returned to teaching rhetoric we might communicate more effectively and we might be more civil with each other. I learned more about that when I listened to a group of characters with power this evening who failed to be honest about their intent even though I told them they had already “revealed what they were going to do.” Within 5 minutes they did exactly what they had revealed. I know that at least one part of the quartet present is happy the variance was not allowed. Rhetorical strategies abound. I will manage things as it seems best to do. Amazing that things are decided the way and in the manner they are. Well, I am sure I will figure it all out. They are worried about 10 or 15 years down the road and if I am still alive when the majority of them are probably significantly older than I am. Go figure.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Imagining what if?

Buenos días de Bloomsburg,,

Mientras yo estaba esperando que las cosas podrían calmarse un poco cuando el semestre terminado, el primer mes del verano se ha hecho nada, pero asentarse. De hecho, de alguna manera las cosas se han acelerado. La semana pasada ha sido una pesadilla tecnológica y esto ha tomado una semana entera para regresar a normal. Perdí tanto computadora como el acceso telefónico, entonces fui más o menos pegado. Asombroso como dependiente estamos en nuestra tecnología. Esta mañana desperté hasta un agujero de gas en la casa entonces yo tenía UGI para manejar esto antes de que yo pudiera hacer algo. Tengo mucho quiero hacer este fin de semana, pero soy literalmente una semana detrás en una clase de una 5 semana, entonces espero a ver lo que ellos harán y si ellos permitirán que yo siga. También quiero hacer un poco de trabajo alrededor de la casa principalmente en la limpieza del exterior y haciendo tan pequeño repintar después del invierno largo. Ha sido un poco loco y hay tanto también en el horizonte. Okay, this took some time and I think I will return to English. but this was good work. The following is a translation of what is above. While I was hoping things would calm down a bit when the semester ended, the first month of summer has been anything but settled. In fact, in some ways things have accelerated. The past week has been a technological nightmare and it has taken an entire week to get back to normal. I lost both computer and phone access, so I was pretty much stuck. Amazing how dependent we are on our technology. This morning I woke up to a gas leak at the house so I had UGI out to manage that before I could do anything. I have a lot I want to do this weekend, but I am literally a week behind in a 5 week class, so I am waiting to see what they will do and whether they will allow me to continue. I also want to do some work around the house primarily in cleaning the outside and doing so small repainting after the long winter. It has been a bit crazy and there is so much also on the horizon.

As I am finishing up the things in Wisconsin, I am forced to see how much my life has been changed because of a little character. She was a force and she told me from time to time that she would make sure I was okay. I told her the last days I saw her how blessed I was and how much she had changed my life. I do not think I can put into words how much she has changed what I expected in my life. As I have been working on the last pieces of what she set up, I am realizing the reality of what she has done. It is really amazing what she and many in her generation did. I wonder what a different world, a better world, in my opinion. They planned (and I know she is extraordinary in some ways); they saved and they invested and thought about later. It is because of that she and George accomplished what they did. I think even my parents did the same, but somehow, they did not instill in me the focus to do the same. I think there were times in my life where I worked to do so, but I was not consistent. That is probably one of my worst maladies. I need to be disciplined all of the time not just in fits and starts. It is not the easiest to be honest with your own failings, but it is essential if you are going to change them. It is always amazing to me that in spite of my successes, and there have been some important ones, I have a tendency to focus on the things I have not accomplished or the things that have somehow been outside the realm of what I would call successful. I have had one of those weeks. When I look around, I am not feeling unfortunate, nor am I even feeling unblessed, but I am feeling like I could have done so much more. More likely that I should have done so much more. What is the more? you might ask . . . perhaps it is because I feel I failed as a husband, twice. Perhaps it is because as we approach Father’s Day, it is because I never had a child of my own . . . and I know there are other ways to be a father and I feel I have done some of that. Perhaps it is because I am trying to figure out my purpose or I am trying to understand why some of the things that have happened in my three score years of life do not make that much sense to me. I understand that it is not always about making sense, but those of you know me, know I have to always figure out the “why” of something. I know that I began life with the deck stacked against me in terms of my health, and even because of those who brought me into the world, but, as I have also noted, I have been given many opportunities and helped by many people; not because I deserved help, but rather because of the graciousness of so many people.

So what is it that I am lamenting? What is it that I wished I had that I did not? Is it merely my humanness coming out and wishing that I had the things I do not? I wish it were that easy to pinpoint. I think it is something deeper. It is that sort of melancholy that seems to invade me from time to time and causes me to wish for more. It is not more stuff or more money or more success. I have too much stuff; I am blessed with certainly enough money; and as noted, I have been successful at some pretty amazing things. I am respected (generally); I enjoy what I do every day; and I have more than what I might have ever imagined. Still there is this longing for something else. There is this wish I think that I wish I had something else or someone else. I am really not sure which it is. I am often content to be in my house by myself and I have grown more introverted as I have aged. I have this sort of vagabond nature that makes it hard for me to be involved with people beyond a certain level or degree. While I am terrifically open on some fronts, I am tremendously cautious on others. It is sort of a oxymoronic way to manage things. In someways it is a sort of rhetoric of misdirection, which is the basis of my dissertation. I do not think I ever put that together until just this instance. I used to be much more comfortable in a crowd and with others than I am now. I used to be more self assured (perhaps then it was foolish to be so), but now it seems I am always wondering the “what if?” While I know quite well what caused my marriages to fail, and I know my part in those failures, there is a part of me that wishes I had not failed. That is a rather ridiculous wish, but it is there nonetheless. Then on the other hand, I have little reason that I would want to return to either person, and this is not to impugn their character because both persons have a number of very positive things and I was certainly part of the problem (they might argue the main part). It is interesting what I have learned in the time I have been single again. I am pretty sure that my first wife and I should not have gotten married. We were good friends and I think we knew each other pretty well. What I realize now is that we did not have the foundation that was needed to create a strong marriage. We had some of the things, but perhaps not the most important thing, or more accurately, I did not. I should not speak for her, but I am not sure now that I really loved her. I loved the thought of being married I think more than the person. That is my mistake, and it was a big one. In the case of my second marriage, I did love her, and, in fact, probably always will to some degree or in some way. There were other issues, on both sides.

In the fifteen years since, I have met a couple of people that I have appreciated and admired, cared for and wondered again, “what if?” Yet, I have not been as close as I probably needed to be though I did once think there was a possibility. I am still reminded of my former counselor’s admonishment at one point. He said, “Michael, if you are interested in someone, you should probably run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” Not a stellar recommendation for any sort of future relationship. There are things I have learned or been forced to realize about myself. While I think I have moderated some of those tendencies, there is always the fear of falling into that particular pattern. There is so much that can be said about how relationships are managed (and I know that term itself will raise eyebrows), but when we are older, any person we are willing to spend any length of time with is a potential mate, if you will. There is the first question of whether or not I want to even go down that road again. It will take someone extraordinary. And then, lately, I have worried that I am going to end up like my Uncle Clare. I will be the person that people invite over for the holidays because they do not want you to be alone. I will be the Norman Thayer of On Golden Pond that I have always threatened to be. What will I be is not something that I question as much as what or who am I now? Who have I become? I think I am a good professor; I think I am a loyal friend; I think I am a caring and giving person. I am reminded that way back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I was told for the first time that I needed to develop a sense of humor and take things less seriously. At that time, I was working through a lot of things with my adoptive family and some of the many things that I have noted in my earlier blogs (especially last summer). I am not sure I was in the best place. Now in many ways, I am in a much better place, albeit a place that I could have never imagined or predicted. I have so many positive things. Maybe I just need to relax and be content. I wish I knew what that meant. I wish I could let things go and not worry about the next thing I still have to do. Somehow, I need to learn to let go.

What if I did? What might it be like? What I know is that overall, I cannot complain, and I should not. What I know overall is that I have been blessed and gifted in so many ways. For those reasons again, I cannot complain and I should not. What I know is that I have amazing friends, colleagues, and family, although most are far away. For those reasons I cannot complain and should not. Can I talk myself out of my lament? Perhaps . . . perhaps it is merely my own personal propensity for melancholy. Perhaps I am more a Dane than a Norwegian. Perhaps I need to read Soren Kirkegaard once again.  We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

“Life is a Blank Canvas”

IMG_4090[1]Hello from my front porch,

It is a spectacular day and I have been working around the yard this morning. It is getting warm enough that I am sweating a bit, so I decided to sit in the shade of the porch and spend a bit of time reminiscing on the idea of Mother’s Day and the idea of honoring those around us. As I have noted in a couple of my latter postings, we do have a penchant for taking both time and people for granted. I am guilty as charged of the omission of telling another that they have an important place in my life. While my biological mother is still alive, I have not reached out to her in 12 years or so, and our last interaction was far from ideal. My adopted mother, about whom I have written on a number of occasions has been gone for over 25 years, and the person who became a mother, a partner of sorts, a friend, and one who probably affected me more than any other mother-figure has been gone for four months. Lydia was similar in age to my adopted mother, but they were both very different and ironically similar in some ways. It is something upon which I have reflected quite often and that was even before Lydia passed away. I continue to wonder about this different, unparalleled, and incredible person with whom I was blessed to spend almost 10 years. It has certainly been a time of adjustment. I am still trying to get everything managed and just got more paperwork in the mail this week.

I have reached out to some people today for this holiday, and there are a few more I should send a message or call before the day is completed. . . . It is hard to believe that life has continued to scoot by and I did not get this either composed or posed. Now I am sitting in Caribou Coffee in Menomonie and I am back to manage more of the things that I have been asked to care for. Yesterday I went to the cemetery and put flowers on Lydia’s and George’s grave. Today I will go to Chippewa and finish up the ordering of and paying for the headstone that will mark their final resting place. I meet with her attorney this morning to see how to finally complete things. In the mean while I am trying to pack my belongings that are still here, finish the paper that I need to present on Saturday and manage the online course I am taking to become QM certified as an online instructor. All in all, it is busy, but it has been productive. When I get back to PA, I have another conference to help participate and manage.

This trip to Menomonie is certainly a reality check of sorts. The stark difference that Lydia is gone and I am here to manage that estate and move my things has hit me hard at moments. As I began this posting some almost three weeks ago, (and it seems like a year versus three weeks)the feeling that one has lost a parent (again) is one of those life-changing moments. I have again reflected on the life that Lydia had (90 years) in a time that saw so many changes in the world, and particularly for her. From WWII and the unbelievable consequences of that war, both personally and even as a civilization, from her life in Europe to coming to the United States, her becoming an academic and living a commuter marriage long before most people considered such a thing. In many ways she was far ahead of her time and more of a feminist that many would consider. I am not sure she would have referred to herself as a feminist . . .  and while she was fiercely independent, she had a propensity for appreciating males much more than she did females. When I think about some of her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, I still believe she had a sense of autism to her, but she was brilliant. Yet, I am reminded that if you moved something on a cupboard or in some place in her garage she would notice it and move it back. Her meticulous nature about so many things was unequalled. Her keen attention to detail was something about which I often marveled (and still do). What I realize now as I ponder things is her struggle with dementia began much sooner than I think any of us realized. I think of how she would repeat certain phrases or things. Initially I thought it was a quirk, but as I think back, in the latter stages of her illness, she did the same things, but to a much greater extent. So were those things a harbinger of what was to come?

During this week, there has been a sort of bittersweet sense of my visit for a number of reasons. Later this summer (toward the end of August), I will have lived in Bloomsburg longer than I lived in Menomonie. That is the longest I have lived in a place since I graduated from high school 42 years ago. I think about the changes I have witnessed in my own life and I think the two most profound changes I see are how I have been able to travel and see things. I grew up in a blue-collar family and vacations were not something we could afford very well, or at least that is how it seemed. We went on two family vacations my entire life. The one to the Black Hills of South Dakota is still memorable to me. However, the point is, I did not travel a great deal. In my adult life, I guess I have seldom sat still (at least geographically). The second change for me is the use of technology and how it has affected both our communication and our learning processes. I think that has been a very profound thing on me and it continues to be so. I am at a Computers and Writing Conference as I write this and, indeed, the fact that it is at Stout makes it really convenient and accessible. I am busy working on that paper as well as working on my own online course that I am taking. That online course has been terrifically time consuming, but I am learning a great deal.

The title of my posting is off the side of a Caribou Coffee cup, where I am sitting and writing this. It is ironic that I post from here because it was 12 years ago this coming fall that I first started to come to this Caribou. It is where I wrote a large part of my dissertation. It is one of the places in Menomonie that I most feel at home.  The feelings of wanting to hold on, but realizing the need to let go have caused me to struggle with sleeping. The need to pack my things and the struggle of actually doing it has been my constant companion these last days. There are pieces that have fallen into place and then moments of best laid plans gone awry. So the week has been a Tale of Two Cities personified. . . . It is now Tuesday morning and the truck is packed. I need to load the Harley, stop at the house insurance people and go to the bank. Then things in Menomonie are completed. I got in touch with a couple people yesterday who have been important to me professionally and personally during my time at Stout (thank you, Lexi and Sasha).  It will be an interesting drive back across the country and for the first time, with the exception of some details, I will not have a significant focus still here in Wisconsin. I still remember driving here from Houghton in August of 2003. I remember feeling that I had moved to the epitome of small town Americana with its summer bandshell concerts and pie sales, it’s farmers market and county fair. Those were my first week experiences. It seems the blank canvas was filled way beyond what I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed in so many ways by this Duodecim años period. I have been forever changed by the experiences, the people, and by the joys and less than joyful moments. But overall, as I will pull away from 307/311 Park Circle with a closing of responsibilities, I know that I will always love you, Lydia. From that first day I met you, you changed my life and you changed me. Vielen Dankt, meinen Mütter. Mit meinem ganzen Herzen, ich liebe dich.

Thanks for reading,
Michael

El acabamiento, el Principio o el Vagabundeo

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Good morning from my kitchen table,

It has been quite the week and my brain seems to be on overdrive. I have journeyed again to the Midwest and back. I used to like to fly, much like I used to like to road trip, but I think those days are in the past. For the seventh straight time I have flown #United, they have managed to rearrange my travel plans or itinary, and with no compensation, sometimes no apology, and general without my getting mileage because I did not book through them. I am reminded of my colleagues favorite acronym “AMF” and that is not the former owner of Harley Davidson. I continue to get Pieces of Lydia’s estate completed and I think I am in the home stretch. . . .  Where does the time go? It is now Thursday of the last week of classes t and I have for me classes are completed for the semester. It has been a busy week with something going on every night and that will be the case until Sunday evening. I have a list of items that I need to attend to, but for the next few days, it will be a serious grading initiative. As much as students might believe there is no one more looking toward summer than they are, they might be mistaken. It is always a relief to finish a year and look toward some sort of respite regardless of how short it might be. I am actually taking a class to receive a online teaching certification beginning the 14th of May and it will continue until the 21st of June. My summer teaching commences 8 days later. There is my summer. I do hope to get one article out for review by the end of June. Ideally two, but I am trying to be realistic in my expectations.

As I have reflected on the past 4 months it is hard for me to fathom that two of the people I have cared for the most are no longer here. I spoke with Carissa the other day and we were chatting about Lydia and the changes of not having her as part of our lives at this point. It is still something that seems more surreal than real to me. There are times that I replay some of our moments in my mind. I think what I miss the most is the accent she so desperately tried to overcome. I think the second thing I miss is her beautiful eyes and amazing smile. When she loved you and was happy it just radiated . . . and she was always on a mission. There was something she hoped to get accomplished and she knew what she wanted and why. I think the other thing that always stunned me, especially when I first met her, was how on top of things in the world she remained and her understanding of international economics and why things worked (or didn’t work). She spent so much time looking at the WSJ everyday and she read it from cover to cover, even long after she was at COH. As I have gone back to the house in Wisconsin, I cannot go into the “big house” without a certain degree of sadness. I think about all she accomplished and the house is certainly a testament to that, but all that is there are still just things. They represent George and Lydia, but she was so much more than merely things. When I was back in Menomonie (and Eagan) for Peter’s funeral, I was so blessed to spend some time with some of those who cared for her. It was more important for me to hear their stories and share Lydia memories with them than they realize. While I am in the last part of finishing up the estate part of Lydia’s life, she lives on in so many ways. I think that is the part that really matters.

As I am into the week of finals and grading, the cliches of the word commencement will be part of the coming week once again, and while I know there is truth in all of that, it is so much more complicated than that. I was reminded of that difference at Peter’s funeral. I think there were people there I had not seen since I probably graduated from high school or before. When I was finishing high school, college was the exception rather than the rule. It was a sense of many people from my part of town had little idea of how they would begin to pay for four years of college. It was generally out of the question for many like me. That was one of the main reasons I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I had not even an inkling of what I would do in college or why I would go; what I might study or what I would do with it if I knew. So between the cost, the indecision and a less than ideal relationship with my mother, I was off to the Marines at the age of 17 and less than 115 pounds. It was traumatic as I spent those first 96 hours at MCRD in San Diego. It was a beginning of sorts. It was the beginning of my trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. It has been quite the journey. When I told someone at Peter’s funeral I was a college professor, his response was, “NO SHIT?” and I responded matter a factly, “Yeah, no shit.” I have reflected more than once on the life I had as a young person. What I know when considering all the facts, or at least the facts I seem to remember, I was fortunate to be a baby boomer person. I think it was the end of a time where, as a country, we believed, for the most part, that the world was a good place and we were lucky to be where we were. I was not rich by any means, but I had a lot of stability, even in a family that struggled with a number of issues. None of those struggles was so terrible that I lost a lot. I was speaking with someone the other evening and we were discussing families. I think reflecting on both the positive and the less than ideal of our upbringing is an important thing. We need to understand from where we come and why we might respond to others as we do. I believe being a parent must be one of the harder jobs in the world, especially if you are going to try to do it well. There are positives I have that are the consequence of both of my parents. There are some qualities that probably cause others some consternation (and me too) that I have also inherited from them. I think it is always fascinating to see how genetically same siblings are so different in their personalities and their interactions with other people. Life is always a beginning. It is a continuous learning process. It is a string of successes or failures, but it is a string. It keeps coming.

As I often tell others, it is not that difficult to figure out. We have two options: we can keep going or we can stop. It might seem easier to stay down when we fail or fall down, but that is not a good plan, at least for me. I cannot stop. I have made some serious mistakes in my life and some of those mistakes have had serious consequences, but I have recovered, for the most part. Some of those processes took longer and were more painful than others. In reflection, I think losing my ordination after a difficult and poor relationship with a bishop was one of my more difficult times. I still find things that cause pain from that and it has been over 15 years ago. I know that the first years following my divorce from Theresa, which was also part of the ordination issue were a dark time in my life, even though I was back in graduate school and trying to move forward, I think it was a time where I took a step forward and two steps back on a regular basis. I am fortunate to have gotten beyond that. That struggle actually followed me to Wisconsin more than I might like to admit and it probably while I was not as successful their as I might have hoped. Again, it was a series of steps that seemed to move in more than one direction. This is another reason I am grateful to, and for, Lydia. Lydia gave me something or someone on which to focus that actually put my life in a much better place.

As students graduate this week, I think they might find what is confronting them (a very different world than the world of 1977, the year I would have graduated from college had I gone straight through) a bit more frightening than my world was. It is not that they are less prepared or less aware. In fact, I believe they are better in both categories, but I do believe the world is a much more difficult place than my world was. The globalization, the consequences of a different imperialism, an unprecedented attack on both the environment and on equality and justice (in many ways), and the reality that most people have lost a sense of hope (in my opinion) makes this world much more sinister, much more frightening. It is a world that seem much more intent on hurting rather than helping; on tearing down rather than building up; on blaming the other rather than working with the other. It does not matter if it is locally, nationally, or globally. It would be easy to give up and become part of those who see nothing better, and while I am certainly not idealistic about our prospects, I do believe if I do my small part to make it a better place, there is someone that will benefit and something that can happen that is positive and maybe as a ripple effect, there can be a more significant consequence.

I could write a great deal more about all of this, but I need to get back to my grading initiative. So to all of those with whom I have been blessed to work, and are graduating, I wish you much success and a life that brings you a sense of meaning and happiness. Thank you for your work, for your growth as a student and a person and for making my days better. It is in the meeting of the wide variety of students that I do see a reason for hope. I think there are some amazingly good millennials that will certainly have a positive impact on the world. Take the chance to wander; it is a good thing. For now, it is back to grading. I am hoping to wander (and wonder) again soon.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Farewell my Friend

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Good Sunday morning,

It is very early and I am awake. I left town yesterday because of the yearly block party (I refuse to use it as a proper noun – pun intended). It was a wonderful day in Jim Thorpe and a beautiful day to be walking around. Early yesterday morning,s I got a call from Stephanie informing me that Peter, the life-long friend whom I have noted as of late, had passed away earlier Saturday morning, ending his battle with ALS. It is a bitter-sweet thing to say I am both relieved that he no longer needs to suffer, but I am so profoundly at a loss because someone who has been my friend since the beginning of my life, and someone even younger (albeit only a year, almost exactly), has left this earth. As I noted a few posts ago, this is a very different feeling than the feeling I had with Lydia. While losing Lydia is still part of my daily thoughts, she was 90 and had lived an amazing life. Peter was 58 years old. At one point I might have considered that old. That is undoubtably not my reality now.

When I went to see Peter three weeks ago, he noted that he never really expected to grow old. That statement caught me off guard, but I noted that he probably did not expect to have to battle such a vicious and uncaring disease as ALS. I want to talk about the memories of this most amazing, yet profoundly human, friend of mine. Our mothers were best friends all of our lives and our families did most everything together. Peter, James, and John (Biblical sounding) were the three Goede boys and Robert, Michael, and Kris (I am the Michael, not trying to state the obvious) were the Martin children. Peter’s mother was our church organist and our two father’s, Jake and Harry, pretty much ran Riverside Lutheran Church when we were small. To walk into my house and see Marge, Peter’s mother, at the kitchen table having iced tea with my mother was as common as breathing. To see our fathers working on something at church was a common as listening to Pastor Anderson or Ofstedal, our two pastors from childhood through high school preach every Sunday. If it was the 4th of July, we were at McCook Lake and the Ike’s Club to celebrate with fireworks and picnics. When I was 17 years old, Peter saved my life when I almost drown in that lake. If he had not swum across that lake, I am am quite sure I would not be writing this post and he would be joining me rather than I being one of the many who has lost him.  His older brother, John, was instrumental in really creating a strong church youth group  and that youth group was a significant part of my growing up. I remember when the famous Beatles song, “Let it Be” was the theme of our homecoming growing up. It was that song and Pete’s singing of it that got his voice noticed and began a life-long gig with the garage band, The Establishment, who were eventual inductees into the Iowa Rock -n-Roll Hall of Fame, that would in someways identify Peter for the rest of his life. Whether it was their gigs or his grandmother meticulously braiding his almost waist-length hair; whether it was traveling to another high school homecoming dance or a weekend in Spencer, Iowa, where we spent hours listening to the latest 45 trying to figure out the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain Way”, his voice was in the process of becoming legendary. Growing up I walked beans on their farm; I spent moments driving around in our cars; hanging out wherever we might decide like the Runza Drive-in on Riverside Blvd. When I left for the Marine Corps after graduation, our actual time together was significantly less than our childhood years, but eventually, I was best man in his wedding and he was the same in mine. When I ended up in seminary, Whitney, their daughter was born and I sang at her baptism. He would sing at my ordination and he sang at my sister’s funeral. Our fathers passed away within two months of each other.

Even though our lives when through a myriad of changes, there was never the need to figure out who the other one was or who they had become. I remember going to Whitney’s high school graduation reception and what he told me that day was a bit shocking, but he was even then taking a sort of inventory of his life and what had happened. Peter was an unequalled when it came to working hard and not giving up on things. In the early days of he band he would buy their PA equipment, taking out loans in his own name to make sure they had what was needed and he and Flood Music became sort of business partners. He was one of the first to get into the hardware/software/networking area and he did very well. Even when it required changing companies and learning a new gig or thing, he was up to the challenge. Yet, he was a human and sometimes the habits we learn early never leave us. There were things he battled and as with many of us, he could be his own worst enemy. I understand this malady all too well. A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter. It was a letter that I had written as I was recovering from complications of yet another surgery and a letter than reflected much as I am now. As I battled yet another serious health crisis, I called and read him the letter before I even sent it. I cried that evening as I cry now. I am now more than grateful that I took the time to write to him and to Stephanie at that time. I am glad that I took the time to visit him three weeks ago. I am grateful for the conversations we had that day and the opportunity I had to speak with Stephanie a few weeks before that. We take so much for granted.

Later today, I will spend time watching a student be inducted into the national honor society. Quite a change from the beginning of their college tenure, but what it demonstrates is someone not taking anything for granted, but realizing it takes work and that no one owes us anything. That is such a difficult lesson. There is no promise of a long life; there is no promise of success, even with hard work. Each day is a gift and coming to terms with that is something that takes most of us a long time to realize, if we ever actually come to that realization. Each time I am shocked or jolted into this reality, there is little that can be said. It is yet another forced realization. To use the word “forced” demonstrates that we are so easily lulled into complacency or a sense of expectation. We have our plans (and heaven knows we need to plan), but we have little comprehension, nor do we want it, that the line between life and death is much more tenuous than we care to consider in any regular manner or given moment. I think some of our occupations require us to do so (medical or health care workers), but generally we make our long-term plans merely believing that those things will happen. I am quite sure that neither Peter nor I expected to incur some of the things that we have in the 40 years since high school. I do think he expected to have Stephanie in his life, and I am grateful to her for being the amazing person she is. I know the last time he and I spoke he talked about how important his children were and how proud he was of them. His daughter and son, while I do not know them as well as I might wish, are certainly incredible people. They are successful, but more importantly, they are also good people. What I know my friend is that as I think about our lives, I would not be the person I am without some of the things we shared and all the ways our lives were intertwined growing up. You have taught me what true friendship is. We remained friends during your entire life. When I told you three weeks ago that I loved you, I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In spite of your fragile condition, you were as gracious as you could be and we had a nice day together. We laughed and we cried. The tears streaming down my face now are tears of relief. They are tears of sadness and also tears of graciousness, for gratefulness, that we had the opportunity for some sense of closure. I promised I would come see you as soon as school was finished for the semester, but that was not to be. Instead, I am honored and humbled for the opportunity I have had to share together with you our lives, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes at a distance, sometime with a passage of time, but regardless it was a friendship that abided change of time, distance, jobs, and anything else that might have happened.

I am not sure what the schedule will be this coming week, but I know that I am headed back to see you again, sooner than I imagined. This time to be there for your children and for Stephanie and to share with all the people who loved you. As I write this, ironically, I am listening to iTunes and “Dream On” came on. Your voice and your ability to be the show person you were will always amaze me. I hope you have a wonderful stage on which you can share. I know your parents and grandmother are there to welcome you. I am glad you are no longer suffering, but I will miss knowing that you are there in Eagan. I love you, Stephanie, and I love you my friend.

Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (Peter’s friend)

P.S. I have to add that I have now heard “Let it Be,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird”. Thanks for the messages, my friend.

Feliz Pascua

Scan 177

Buenos días del restaurant de Bloomsburg Diner.

Me levanté un poco más tarde de lo habitual porque me quedé despierto y vi el baloncesto Wisconsin-Kentucky juego. Anoche Jerry y Julye acercó a cenar y tuvimos un tiempo maravilloso. Pronto iré a conducir a Nueva Jersey, a las afueras de la ciudad a ver a mi cuñada y a la familia y cenar con ellos. Será la primera vez que realmente he ido por ahí, así que creo que estará bien. Me recuerda a los domingos de Pascua en el pasado cuando era pastor de una parroquia. Al final de la semana Santa, con todos los servicios, siempre estaba agotado. A finales de los servicios el domingo de Pascua normalmente estaba completamente incapaz de pensar o procesar nada. . . .

It is hard to believe that another four days have gone by and I am trying to manage finishing this post again.  The week is totally out of hand. I had a pretty tough night and then had tests run again this morning.  I am honestly not sure what to expect for the CT scan and the other blood work this time around. If I am honest with myself, I know that I am managing things pretty well, but I do not feel that I am making as much progress as I would like. I am in my office until wee hours and back early, but it seems that is what the end of every semester and even more so every Spring demands. Yesterday I think I probably ripped into a student worse than I have every done before. He is such a capable and fundamentally good person, but he is, by his own admission, incredibly lazy. It has shown up in so many ways. What is so different for students now is what it cost them to fail their courses or merely choose to be average when there are 15 million undergraduates out there. It is sort of mind boggling. I did follow up with someone else on that situation, so hopefully together we can get something accomplished. It is actually a Monday and a week and a day after I began this posting and again I am languishing trying to complete it. It has been the story of my life over the last weeks and couple of months.

As noted a couple of weeks ago I went to see my friend, Peter. I got a text on Friday and I spoke with Stephanie on Saturday and the battle with ALS seems to be in the last days. This is both sad and frightening to me. It restates to me with such ferocity, “You are mortal; you are fragile; there are no promises!” It screams with a roaring definitude, “Pay attention; be gracious; make a difference!” I reminds me again of the profound mortality we face daily, with little or no recognition. As I ponder his imminent passing, my eyes once again fill with tears because I am staring headlong into the passing of a person who has been a friend and a significant part of my entire life. We have grown up like most; foolishness and a sense of immortality characterized some of our earlier shenanigans. When we were together a couple of weeks ago, we laughed and cried as we reminisced about some of those events. We spoke about what he hoped to accomplish before he passed, but I am not sure that either of us believed it might be within the next weeks. Now I feel like I am waiting for the call or the text to inform me that a childhood friend, a life-long friend, a father, an amazing musician, is no longer part of this world. It make my entire body feel like it is experiencing something outside my body.

This is one of the things that matters to me as I write this. I want to from a distance provide as much support as I can because I have a job here to accomplish. Today I think I am heading into another all-nighter. It is not my preference, but it is a necessity of my life at this point. It is what I need to do to provide my students with the feedback and information they need to manage the end of the semester as successfully as possible. It was interesting to me that today on Facebook, I was pondering the passing of another and had flown back to Wisconsin to manage that time. It was a rather cute moment because Melissa was staying at the house and keeping an eye on things and could not figure out how to unlock a door to get her pizza. I wish I could have been in the corner to see that. I am sure she is quite glad that was not the case. It was a crazy weekend because I was across the country in only three days and back. It reminds me of how life changes in so many ways, and sometime so amazingly quickly. It is only four months into the new year and already there are significant changes in my life. Most of that has been in the loss of people. I will write more about that again, but now I am thinking about the end of the year. I again have students that I have known since they were summer freshman and are now graduating. It is quite stunning if you consider the differences they have made and the growth they have gone through in this past four years. It is also a bit gratifying to see those changes.

We are now at that point where no one can procrastinate; it matters not which side of the blank stare you are on. I need to merely focus and plug away. I both dread and love this time of year. It is the time when my office is full of students and the requests for more time seem unending. This past week I had a couple of student situations that both surprised and dismayed me. I wonder how it is that some students are so recalcitrant about doing their work in a reasonable manner. I had a student this week tell me that going to the writing center (paraphrased) a ridiculous waste of his time. I was almost dumbfounded. Not so much that he thought such a think, but that he had the audacity to say such a thing in class. It is not often that I am left speechless. I was speaking with my niece at Easter time and she is a second grade teacher and she noted that even the change of respect levels at that age is noticeably different. What is it that has caused us as people who were raised to be polite have allowed our sons and daughters to be less than polite. How did it happen that we have abdicated our responsibilities as parents and put it on the back of the teachers or school system. The other day at the diner one of the regulars told me it was my job to teach my students to be better behaved. I told him I had no such obligation. He then noted that the president of the university should do more about controlling things like Block Party, which is coming soon. Again, while there might have been some jest in what he was saying there was enough of reality in those comments that I have been pondering them ever since. Since when did it become a need for me to put something about decorum and behavior in my syllabus. Really?? I could write an entire posting on that.

This past two weeks I have begun to play trivia on my phone. It is a way to relax for me and it is still something that stimulates my mind. I have learned that not having a television for the most part of 15 years has certainly had a consequence on my entertainment category. Otherwise I do quite well. I think it is because I have so many interests, but that has always been a blessing and a curse. I always say that having an interest has never been a problem, but focusing it has been.  Well, I am going to run. I do hope those who see where this post began had a great holiday and I hope your spring is going well.

Until next time.

Dr. Martin