In the midst of Wonder

boot camp

Good morning from my office,

It has been some time since I wrote and while I have another blog posting drafted and quite a bit done on it, there has been something come to the fore in the past couple of days and so I am going in that direction. As has been the case most summers, I have taught a Foundations of College Writing course for a group of students who are conditionally admitted to the university. Their ability to remain as a student in the fall and beyond is dependent on their summer performance and grades. While there has been some issues with the decisions made to allow the student to matriculate or leave, what is most evident to me as I have worked with many of them is how under-prepared they are when they get to Bloomsburg.

First of all, let me note some things about the university where I work. Bloomsburg is an open enrollment university, which means if you apply here and you have a high school diploma and a modicum of ability, you will probably be accepted. The other day I was speaking with a colleague and I think the percentage of persons accepted was above 85%. That does not mean that there are not good professors, or demanding professors, or professors who are strongly versed in their fields and expect students to step up and do their work. What it does mean, however, often in the areas of math and writing, many students might need some remedial work before they are ready for that first college level course. However, that being said, the students I have in the summer are enrolled in the first level college writing course. Second, I should note that some of the most industrious and brightest students I have had in my 6+ years here came out of those summer classes. During the summer program students are required to follow a seriously regimented schedule, which is probably necessary for them to manage cramming a 14 week schedule into 6, but during the fall, there is a significant difference. They are required to meet with a mentor on a regular basis, but some of those mentors are students (which can be a substantive problem if they need some serious academic guidance) and they are required to do a mere two hours of tutoring a week. From what I can tell, there are not any other really demanding hoops through which they must jump.

As we are now into the 12th week of the semester, there are significant problems for some of them. They believe that their lack of creating priorities and discipline to manage those priorities is catching up with them. The more important issue is that they do not know how to study. Even when they sit down to try to manage their work, they have little idea how to do it effectively or efficiently. Most of them have only  12 credits and many of them have a remedial class, but they cannot seem to manage the expectations and requirements of what I would call a relatively easy semester. Again, I am well aware that what I consider to be easy and what they believe to be easy can quite different. One student in particular spent so much time working a job early in the semester and then got a second job (not two at the same time), but is now scrambling to manage the end of the semester. Others take 3 hour naps a couple of times a day. Going to that early class and then going back to the room and sleeping until lunch is not a optimum schedule when it comes to managing your work. I told all of them they would need to plan to spend 40-50 hours a week in class or studying, but I am not sure they believed me. Consequently most of them are getting kicked. What I am realizing is this; in spite of great intentions, I am not sure we are offering the support they need to manage after their summer classes. They are not able to manage the requirements because they do not have the discipline and they certainly do not have the study skills. Most have good intentions, but they have little sense of what it takes to actually manage what they are being asked to do. This is the consequence of their public education.

What I am wondering is what is happening at in their middle school and high school classes. There is also an issue of determining what support they have at home for their studies. Even though I have noted things about my own public school education in earlier blogs, what I know now is my parents just expected me to do my work. There was little actually support for doing it and I think I had a more stable home than many of my students currently have. I once got a failing grade in chemistry when I was a junior in high school. That was the one time it really hit the fan with my father. He was not usually the disciplinarian in the house and he grounded me for nine weeks. When I tried to argue that punishment with him he actually grounded me to my room for nine weeks. It was probably a precursor to Marine Corps boot camp, which reminds me: today is the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps. 1775 at Tun Tavern near Philadelphia was the founding of this branch of the service. It is also the 532nd birthday of Martin Lutheran and the 40th commemoration of the loss of the ore carrier the Edmund Fitzgerald. Each year for extra credit I give my students a chance at extra credit to come up with these three things that are related to me. I do not think a single student has every gotten all three.

What are the expectations of parents today when it comes to their children’s education? This is an long-reaching question. From before they enter kindergarten until they have made it through college, parents have a responsibility to help their sons and daughters manage their education. For me this does not mean they do it for them, but they support their success. It means when a student (a child) is not doing well, there is some intervention, and not blaming the school or the teacher, but trying to figure out what is needed as a team to raise the possibility of success. The farther the child goes into the system the more significant the consequences. Yet, if there is no strong foundation by the time the student gets into college, they are in remedial classes. Recently, I was speaking with a person who is back teaching after sometime away from the classroom. I will not reveal the location or the grade, but it is in early elementary school. I was told that they are required to give lessons to these young students on how to tie their shoes!! Are you kidding me? How the hell did that become the public school system’s job. Since when did it become the teachers job to teach how to dress or how to manage hygiene or how to behave with some sense of decorum (teach basis manners)? That is a parent’s role and responsibility. I know these statements are troublesome, but when I grew up, my parents would have paddled my butt for misbehaving at school when I was small. I would have gotten grounded as I grew older. I would have lost privileges eventually. I was grounded to my room as I noted earlier. My father did call my chemistry teacher, but not to chastise him for my grade. He called to get an honest picture because I was not as forthcoming as I needed to be. I did not want to take responsibility, accountability, for my lack of work.

For many of my summer students, navigating the pond of financial aid, scheduling, studying, and merely living away from home is more than most of them can handle. I have already noted the issues with studying and managing time (which is a phrase I hate), but the issue of learning to schedule and follow through with appointments and managing the finances of college costs is like speaking a foreign language to most of them. It is not that they do not ask the questions, it is they do not know what question to ask? That is a very different issue. I was a little older when I actually started college, so I had already learned to manage my life, at least to some extent. As I have noted at other times, I flunked out the first time I went. I was not a bad high school student (with the exception of the one quarter of chemistry). I was a typical high school student. I did enough to get by. I will say they did not hand out As or Bs as they do now. I got more Cs than I wish I might have. I graduated from high school with around a 2.8. Nothing amazing. Going to the service was a shock for a 17 year old little naïve and squirrely NW Iowa kid. It was a nothing short of a total frickin’ wake up call. I actually put my head under my pillow the first two nights in boot camp at MCRD in San Diego. There were times throughout the entire 80 days I was not sure I could make it. I was above average there, but barely. There was a lot more growing up yet to do. That is life. It is a continual growing process. It is a continual kick of accountability. I am now into that sexagenarian decade and it has not changed. The difference is I am no longer surprised when I get kicked. I am no longer ready to first blame someone else for my problems. I will admit that even at this age it is not enjoyable to be accountable, but that is the way the world works. It is always difficult to hear that. When I note for students that their investment of 100K and a piece of paper guarantees nothing, the look on their faces is one of shock, one of wonder. I remember a student a few years ago when I noted the reality of this asking why I wanted to depress him.

What are the answers to some of these questions? Are there answers or more appropriately, are there solutions? I believe the answer, as it usually is, is complicated. While I feel I am sounding old, it seems the loss of family support, or a nuclear family (an unfortunate term) creates a significant piece of this issue. When we are opening the doors of the university to students dramatically underprepared, we need to consider carefully how we best support them. I am not saying opportunities should not be offered, but throwing someone into a pool and forcing them to swim is brutal . . . and the failure rate can be tragic. So it is here with our students. I am sad for them because I believe we hurt them more than help them. There are so many considerations and it takes a lot more than merely a room, some food, and a list of classes if they are going to thrive in this foreign environment. There have been times this semester when I try to assist student that their hearts are certainly in the right place, but they look at me as if I am speaking a foreign language, and to them, and I am. Again, it is much like why we hire attorneys when we are considering needing to work in the legal system. We have neither the expertise nor the language to navigate this unfamiliar terrain. I was no different on one level, but I was 24 years old when I began my studies in earnest at Dana College. I had a GI Bill that was also helpful. It was also different to be among so many who were typical small liberal arts types. I had been around a lot more than them. Even though I questioned my academic ability at the time, I was able to navigate most of the rest of the requirements. I learned that I was capable, but I had an amazing support system at that small Nebraska college. I had outstanding professors who took a personal interest. I had a group of friends who cared about me and I cared about them. To this day, I am still learning how much Dana College did to prepare me for the life I now have.

As I have worked through helping almost 100 advisees or summer freshmen just this semester I am blessed, but a bit overwhelmed. I want students to success. I am in the midst of wondering how we got to this place. I am both blessed, but frightened as I work on this. Well, back to some other projects. To give you an idea of how small, young and naïve Pvt. Martin was, I have included my boot camp picture. Somehow it seems appropriate on this Veteran’s Day. Smiles, laughs, or snickers allowed and understood.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

My love/hate Relationship with Technology


Hello from the #Fog and Flame,

Before you even begin to read this, I will note that it sat for two weeks as I have been trying to keep my head afloat as I noted in the last posting. It has taken me two weeks to get back to this and the number of things I need to accomplish this weekend to manage the coming week seems a bit daunting, but I need to clear my head, so I back. This was on the 11th of October that I wrote what you will begin to read. . . . I am in this morning trying to do work, but I have my Mac rather than the PC, and BOLT refuses to let me log in because I am using the Mac. I thought this was something that had been remedied, but obviously I was mistaken. I know there have been issues this Fall, but I thought they were managed . . .  and it seems that it is not merely a Mac thing, so it means I cannot do what I need to do for grading today. Then it seems that my exchange for Bloom on my Mac is not working again either. I will have to take the Mac into tomorrow. It will not send what I have responded to students, so I am going to have to go up to school and see if they are there. I am not ignoring students. I will say that I have been overwhelmed the past couple of weeks, or more accurately since school began, but I do try to manage things reasonably well. Now, all of the sudden, and as I told Haley it must have been her power as she was standing next to me, all the emails sent. It is my struggle with technology. Intermittent problems are always the most difficult things to understand because they seem non-sensical and unpredictable.

Most of my students will tell you that I am a technology geek, and while I understand their perception, I really am not such a person. I remember when cell phones (the shoe box type) first came out and I was living in NEPA then. People told me I needed to get one of those things and I responded, “It was one of the few times I could get away from the phone, why did I want one in the car?” When I got my first PC in 1987, I did it out of a sense of fear rather than a sense of I wanted a computer. Most of my grad school colleagues had one and I felt like I was going to be so far behind in my writing. I did not type well at that time (not that I am an expert now, but I can type without looking at the keyboard) because I had never taken typing. I do not think I really got to be computer literate to a reasonable extent until I worked for Gateway Computers in 1999. I was forty-four years old and most of what I have learned about technology has occurred since then. I am always sort of amused when my students tell me that they have to help their parents or other relatives with some pretty simple things. That is not to say I have it all figured out. Sometimes I do not know the simplest things (ask Melissa!!). She will just roll her eyes and I must admit, she got me a birthday present to help me keep from losing things – like my keys – which I have managed to lose yet another set in the past two days. Somehow on Friday afternoon, I lost yet another (and, of course, this is not the cheap key!). Her father noted I must not have put the little things she got me on things yet. Indeed, I have been so busy that it did not get accomplished and so she has yet another reason to merely give me the look and say something like “I have no words.”

My Writing for the Internet students have a paper due tomorrow evening on this very thing. How has the use of technology changed since 1984? That seems like a simple question that one can merely answer, dramatically, but I want so much more than that?  The fact that students cannot leave their phones, cannot function reasonably without them, expect that everything should be available for them through those little devices speaks volumes about their connections, their insistence, their dependence on technology. If one is that dependent, (or if they are going to make the argument that they are not) how do they understand that device as a tool? What are the expectations of, for instance, their professors, their university, or their world about the inter-reliability they have in maintaining contact, for instance? What are reasonable expectations of the different subjectivities with which they are required to have contact? Again, some of the same people are included, but there is also the issue of social networking and the consequence of that interaction. It seems that seldom does a day go by when someone of some sense of import does not find themselves in hot water for what they have tweeted, Facebooked, or whatever else it is they did. The photos that will come back to haunt (and I have done some of that, unfortunately). Are we accountable for whatever is out there in the ether about us? What sort of control should we take? What sort of control should we be “required” to take? Where can we expect this technology to go? How invasive might it become for us as we move forward? How invasive are we willing to let it become? I think we have allowed much more than we actually understand, and once we have gone down that road, is there any reversing it? As much as I like technology and the industrial nature of it (I mean that it is a tool that is there to make our lives more manageable), I do realize the invasiveness of it. I think, probably like most, I choose to ignore it, but that is a choice and it has a consequence. What is that consequence and what do I think about it? That is something we all need to consider.

While I do have my allegiance to things Mac, I do have PC things too. I have noted before in this blog that Steve Job was a genius for a variety of reasons, but the thing that made him most amazing was his rhetorical ability. When you consider the information that Google, Amazon, or Facebook can compile on us through algorithms, how much are they like the Big Head (big brother) in the movie, 1984. Will they overcome or prevail, or ironically, contrary to the Super Bowl commercial from Mac in 1984,  will 2014 (and beyond) create, through our iWatch, our iMusic, our iPad, our iPhone, that we are part of the bushel? I am certainly not content to be merely another Macintosh . . .  I am not content to be connected to my technology by necessity. I want to use it as a tool. I want to be able to use it or not, as I choose rather than by the choice of the other. The fact that I have bought into the idea of technology so much has certainly affected how I manage my job, my communication, and pretty much my life. I do believe that I could be more comfortable than many realize backing away from it. It is much like when I go to my home at times. I love that I can shut the door and there is no one where to bother me. I appreciate the quietude of the place; I appreciate the solitude of that somewhat monastic space. I am supposed to do some things later today, but the problems with BOLT have made my day a bit more unscheduled that I had planned. I think I might have to hide away and work. The fact that a Packer game is being played at the moment and I am not in front of the television says more than this sentence can begin to dramatize.

. . . It is Tuesday and I think we are headed for about a 36 hour marathon. Tonight I have a midterm scheduled in my Bible as Literature class (you are now at the 13th of October), but that is the easy part of the day. I need to make serious progress on my to-do list or I am going to be very unhappy. I have had a number of meetings with students. It is midterm time and that is always a time for panic, or so it seems. It is interesting how the semester has seemed to get away from both students and faculty. I do not think I have ever felt this harried or somehow behind all at the same time. . . .

It is now the present, which is Sunday, October 25th; this past week I went to NYC with students from the #COBLLC once again. It is a good group of students and I think they managed to absorb a great deal of what we hope will happen. I visited the site at Ground Zero for the first time and it was moving. It is hard to imagine that this is where the two buildings collapsed and so much devastation occurred. It was humbling to look at the reflecting pools and to see that is where the towers where. This week I will chat with some of the students about that. This morning as looked at the news, I saw that once again the community of OSU (Oklahoma State University) suffered another tragedy. It is hard to imagine what they have gone through in the past decade. It touched me in a different way because one of my closest colleagues here at Bloomsburg is an alum of that institution. It also reminded me that I read the names of over 50 students in the local paper who were cited for some sort of alcohol violation during homecoming weekend here. The role that alcohol has in our society is troublesome to me. I say that as a person who has a lot of wine and liquor in his house, but does not actually drink that much. There was a time where I was certainly irresponsible (or just plain stupid) in how I managed alcohol, or more likely how it managed me. I am fortunate that I did not end up in treatment and I know that. I do know how to enjoy it responsibly at this point. One of my former colleagues is struggling in their attempt to learn that lesson now. It is a sad story.

Back to the idea of technology . . . the newest piece of technology I have was actually given to me as a birthday present and it called tile. It helps me manage my keys more than anything. All the way back to when I was married to Susan, she would tell you that I am notorious for losing my keys. I have a place to hang them. I have learned to leave them sticking out of the lock in my door in the office, so I do not lose them, but have managed to, more than once, leave them hanging in the door overnight. It is rather pitiful. I have misplaced, possibly thrown them away (or someone did it for me), or simply lost them in a pocket or some other ridiculous place for months. I have had to change locks, call AAA, and the list can go on, but I think you get the picture. This present of tile might be the most helpful birthday present I have ever received. I can now connect my keys-various sets of them-to my phone and vice versa, or my iPad and vice versa. It is the best thing because after my keys, the phone might be the next most illusive thing I own. What I know is I need to get into my other technology now, which is BOLT and get some things posted. I have had things graded, but not posted. Time to step up. In spite of the disjointed nature of this blog, I hope you find something worth reading. Remember you are in charge . . . this is what I need to remind myself of daily. The technology is a tool to help me with that work.

I hope this finds you well and thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Juggling or Staying Afloat

 Good early morning,

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thank you for reading.

The non- juggling and non-swimming professor.

Believing the Best


Good early morning,

It is 3:29 a.m. and I have been awake for a bit . This past week has been a whirlwind. I am supposed to be in Kentucky right now, but that took a back seat to other more pressing things. Hurricanes disrupted travel, and delayed connections meant sleeping in an airport before I would ever get to a conference. Tuesday I realized I had a basement full of water and Thursday it was discovered that what was thought to be a dead former sewer line was actually still being used. So sump pumps, dryers, Roto Rooter,  and dehumidifier are the companions for the week. It is raining steadily and I can hear the wind as it rattles my windows like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I did not end up with so much of a blockage that things backed up, thank goodness, but if my contractor who happened to come into the house had not given me a text, I would have not realized the impending problem until it was a much more unfortunate situation.

This is the second time this past week I have been awake or up at this time. This time I woke up, but earlier this week I was just going to sleep after a long conversation. That conversation took personal turns I could’ve never imagined. It was an important conversation, which I believe was prompted by a series of times of talking, listening, and wondering that have occurred for more than eight years. It always amazes me that I have a degree in communication, but sometimes I communicate very ineffectively; sometimes in my humanity I make choices that cause me pause. When what I have done causes another to hurt or question, I genuinely hurt in those times or occasions when I am party to that hurt or confusion. In this instance I’ve created confusion for myself also. I am genuine, or try to be such, but when I feel that I have been less than or I have damaged my own reputation through my actions, it is terrifically difficult for me. I am often too willing to offer my hand, especially when I care deeply, without considering consequence. As is always the case, time will tell exactly where it all stands. . . .  it is later in the morning and I am now in my office working. I had hoped in spite of the craziness to get to the OSCLG Conference this weekend, but the weather created enough delays and difficulties that I would have not gotten there until today. Somehow going for barely 24 hours and what that would do to my body made me reconsider. That reconsidering is even a step in the right direction because I generally just go and do whatever it takes and suffer the consequences later. As I once told someone, I am not a consequentialist when it comes to my ethical stance.

As I sit in my office, it is still raining and this morning earlier I was listening to the news and seeing the eerie parallels between the cargo vessel missing in the Bahamas because of Hurricane Joaquin and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was forty years ago next month that the great iron ore carrier broke up and sank in Lake Superior. The haunting phrase of that song that keeps playing through my head is “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours” (Lightfoot)? I also thought of the movie, The Perfect Storm.  In fact, in honor of those from both the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Andrea Gail, I offer these videos from YouTube. The first is in honor of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which ironically was the name of a restaurant where I worked while at MTU:

And a second video of what it would be like to be in a fishing boat out in an actual storm. Rather frightening . . . where is the love of God at moments like this? (As an update, they are pretty sure the El Faro has sunk.)

Again, we want to believe the best. We want to trust and sometimes that trust puts us in situations we do not expect, situations where we are outside our comfort zone and we do not know exactly how to navigate the waves or the storm. . . . Those storms can overwhelm and frustrate us. Over the weekend one of my fraternity brothers, Major Justin Fitch, US Army (ret.) lost his long battle with colon cancer. This hits particularly close for me, for a variety of reasons. He is (or now was) the age I was when I began my significant fight against Crohns which has taken me down numerous paths. Why is it I am still fighting and someone,  who dedicated himself to others in ways I can only hope,  has lost his battle much too soon? His strength and perseverance, his willingness to see beyond himself, and the example he is set for others, is unparalleled. It is the third time, that I am aware of, that the Michigan chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has lost a brother too soon to cancer. Here is a little of his story:

While I am unable to go back to Wisconsin this week for his service to all the brothers and family who will gather there, you are in my prayers. I remember being there with brothers when the chapter lost the DeCleene brothers. Those bonds were and are strong as I see people from around the world remember Justin. Too often we hear only the negative things about Greek organizations, but there is so much more. I saw that at MTU and I still see it now. I remember the words and care in particular of my brother A.J. Lee. To this day, he is one of the people I most admire. Both he and Justin are people in whom you can believe and witness the best. So much to do this week and to try to finish up. I have student conferences today for a Bible as Literature course and my Foundations students are working on peer reviews. Last night I had class, but also had the opportunity to listen to a reading and meet Phil Klay, the 2014 National Book Award winner, as he presented excepts from his book, Redeployment. It was quite phenomenal and the insight he gave about writing was wonderful. He is an United States Marine (retired) and as such I had great appreciation for him on a variety of levels. A nice contingent of my students were there and I think they heard some important things about writing and the importance of reading. Mr. Klay gave credibility to many of the things I say in class.

It is hard to believe we are half of the way through the semester and while there is much accomplished, there is still so much to do. I have another paper to present this coming weekend. There seems to be little down time before the next thing is upon me. The yard project continues and I am just wishing it could be completed. I do think some significant work will be done this week. It has kept me running up and down the street more than I would like. Weather has begun to change and it certainly seems more like Fall. The evenings and mornings are crisp, but the afternoons have been delightful. We did get significant rain last weekend from the low and the hurricane, but nothing like South Carolina. I think they are struggling with what we did four years ago. As I noted earlier in this post, the weather is certainly powerful. I remember when I was in graduate school in the Upper Peninsula. The power of Lake Superior is actually awe-inspiring. To this day, I love the season and the beauty of that peninsula. From the amazing almost continuous light of the mid-summer to the harsh reality of 270+ inches of snow in the winter, they are equally beautiful and breathtaking. The colors of the fall along the portage and the tapestry of the rural-scapes can only be created by something more amazing than any human touch (the picture above is from that portage.). Spring does not really exist much, so it is a sort of three season place. If I could bring that lake here, I would. On the other hand, the beauty of this state is also quite astounding. The hills, trees, and the sort of mountains (certainly much more elevationally diverse than the Midwest) are quite inspiring.

Well . . . the writing has once again cleared my head. I am ready to face the plethora of things that are facing me for the day.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Managing it all; Understanding what really matters

50 foot woman

Dear Self . . . (Without the selfie),

It is time to get organized for the remainder of your existence. That is what it seems you need to hear. Being over-extended, struggling to focus, and consequently, feeling overwhelmed will not work long-term. It seems you are barely getting done what is necessary for the day let alone for the remainder of the week, the remainder of the month, and certainly not managing the semester at this point. It seems needing to sleep more and again, consequently, somehow not getting as much accomplished is what you have been reduced to being. There was the caring admonishment that if you were sleeping more you are actually helping yourself. You can imagine that is probably true, but you did not always need that amount of rest.

This weekend began with a wonderful little Friday’s soirée where a number of colleagues gathered in your honor. You have been so blessed to have such amazing colleagues and friends.  Today it is off to a birthday part for a little man 1/20 my age. Say what?? Yes, three versus sixty. That ratio stunned me and when thinking about the numeric differential,  you were stunned. For the most part, this past couple weeks your mantra has been, “How did this happen?” It seems the unpredictability of our futures has been something I have found myself pondering. It appears that you are always surprised by what might have been expected and the reality of what actually occurs. In a recent blog you noted that my life has not turned out as “planned.” The more important thing you have come to realize is you did not really have a plan when you were getting out of high school; in fact you were rather clueless(there are moments you still question that.).

The fact that you have worked for more than two weeks to get this blog done, much like your students. Hitting that block, so much that you actually started a new posting and it is up for view. As you know, the teaching of writing is often paradoxical or certainly autobiographic experientially. The very things you are teaching, you are learning, or more likely reminded. You  need to practice what you preach to your student. Indeed, you should never just finish a paragraph and leave it there. Perhaps it is old age, perhaps it is merely as you have noted many times. If you do not continue that train of thought you will lose it; if you are going to be honestly introspective at this point, it is probably a combination of the two. Today grading and pondering, some of that pondering related directly to the title. It is likely that the probable use this title again and again is just reality. As you are in your office (known by some as your living room and others as the museum), you are working on a myriad of things, but you need a break, so you write. It is amazing how this writing can calm your mind, your soul, perhaps lower your blood pressure and other positive imports. As you are typing, listening to “Heat of the Moment” by Asia on Pandora, you find your mind drifting back to your time in Iowa City as a junior honors student at the University of Iowa. Now you have an amazing great-niece there, which reminds you to ask her about the honors program. Working almost full time and going to honors classes, you learned so much when you were there that semester. It has caused you to think about someone you first met in Ames at Iowa State University, but then again in Iowa City. She was an amazing person and someone you still wonder about. There were other learning moments. Working at University Hospitals was an eye-opening experience. So much to learn even now. Every time you begin to consider that you have figured something out, you realize there is more . . .  every time you learn something you learn something you do not know . . . . are you feeling like you are working backwards . . . that is something understandable.

It is perplexing, maybe even more accurately that there is a certain being flummoxed by the fact that the idea of “what next” is constantly a companion . . . . A few nights ago, after stopping by my colleague’s house to drop something off and the reality of how much some things can change was so apparent. The last six years have been so significant in my life as far as my professional (and personal) development. A seventeen year old has changed so much in the six years you have been here. She is not that enjoyable at the present time and the relationship you had with her seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps the most important thing you have learned in the past couple years, however, is to not take these things as personally as you would have. It is apparent that this change in you has been noted by said person though because she believes you have been self-centered. If she only saw the bigger picture. It is her own struggle with life in general that has caused her to pull away and choose to not be as outgoing as she once was. It is evident as you continue to age that God was wise when it was somewhere decided you would never be a biological parent. While being a surrogate parent has been an amazing growing experience, perhaps the belief that you are self-centered  is more accurate than you might believe. You do note often that you are content to go home and close the door. That is another one of those realities. I want to do more of that and there is feeling of needing to pull back. This is not in your nature, but Lydia used to encourage this regularly. There have been some moments lately you have wondered about being alone for the long haul. You have reached out to change that. One over the last year (eight years), and perhaps that was not one of your wiser moves. There seems to be little that can or will change. There are others that speak with you and you speak with them, but nothing seems to be possible there. Perhaps you are the newest generation of the Martin family to be “Uncle Clare”. There are certainly ways that is not a bad thing. He was actually quite intelligent and he had a good heart. He was a bit curmudgeonly at times, but he was also genuinely grateful for those who were around him and he was thankful for what he had. Still feeling badly that an airport connection issue caused me to miss his funeral. This week has been one unexpected thing after another. While productive, it seems that things have gotten thrown into the mix that were not planned. Your friend, Mr. Crohn’s has acted up more than once, another fever, and trying to stay head of getting whatever crud is going around in the class is one thing. Dealing with the project at home and trying to keep those affected happy (good luck on that) have become a much greater difficulty that I might have imagined when first moving in. It seems no matter what is done to demonstrate a sense of trying to understand, there is little reciprocation. It is apparent no matter what is done, it will not be enough or good enough. Then what was considered to be a non-working sewer shut off was no such thing. Therefore, spending time with Roto Rooter today was necessitated. There is nothing that ever really goes completely as planned. That being said, you know that you are still blessed by so many things.

As this is written there was yet another mass shooting/killing in Oregon yesterday. Have not listened to President Obama’s comments, but will do so yet today. Other things like committee meetings, observations, reports, documents, and only God knows, perhaps fortunately, what will come next. You have often noted that if you knew everything that was coming, you might have chosen a different door. There is no change in that feeling or consideration, but there is always the others side of those things you call AFGEs (another f-ing growing experience). It is a good thing that those are not literal things because you would be 50 feet tall (which btw prompted the initial picture for this posting). You might remember that this poster is in the men’s restroom in #Zanzibar back in Menomonie. Somehow thinking of Menomonie and some of the week’s connection to there again has caused me to ponder. There are those people we meet who amaze us and astound us, but we do not always communicate that well and then wonder what if we might have done things differently. You might remember the words of your “surrogate older sibling,” Judy. She once when you were staying at their house counseled you on those you have probably loved, but the timing was not correct. Perhaps truer words have not been spoken. There are a couple of those people. If I think of Ames, there was one. She was in the Alpha Phi sorority where you worked as a waiter. There were a couple of people in Iowa City, one you have already considered earlier in this post, and the second person was an amazingly beautiful person. There were actually two or three persons at Dana. One you are still in contact with, the other two you are not. It is interesting that the two you are not in contact with are probably friends even yet. There are a few other people, but again, the issue was timing. Yet, if you think about that carefully enough there are even a couple from the old neighborhood growing up. It seems as is often the case, a tangential thought sent this writing down yet another path. The beginning of the paragraph had to do with the fact that a number of people are again the victim of violence. Finishing up another meeting about an observation, there is yet one more meeting for the day. Waiting for the next meeting and writing, after reading a couple of news tickers and it seems the shooter (a 26 year old) had 13 weapons, all purchased legally. It begs a number of questions. If what was read earlier, just as a quick glance noted that the gun culture of this country has a disconnect. Nothing could be more accurate. It  is the ability to get weapons so easily (and you are aware that the qualifier in the statement will create difficulty for some) has to be part of the discussion. Again, there is no arguing this constitutionally. As you know, the constitution is exactly that. The right to bear arms is there, but there is so much more to the discussion. What happens to the discussion in so many ways because of special interests and money is appalling.

When does human life, and its value, which Republicans argue is so valuable, at any stage, trump (and it is a struggle to use that term anymore because of the bully with the same name) the “right to bear arms”. Again, there is no argument about the right, it is how the right manifests itself. Realizing we live in a culture here in PA, similarly to where previous residences in WI or MI were, where this ability (right) to own a gun was so valued, the conversation too often becomes an instant argument. That is not what is hoped for or desired. When does the ability to have a gun move into a more complicated discussion or want or need? Are they related? Some will say, “no.” While it is realized you would say, “yes,” perhaps the more likely conversation needs to be if not, perhaps they need to be. There will be, as you know, pro and con pundits deciding why this should be considered, but when will the society decide it is enough? When will life and protection of life (and you know some will argue that guns are for protection, which is true in some cases) created enough push back again the powerful NRA? There are lots of things to consider in that discussion. It seems we all need to take an inventory and decide what matters? We need to argue for the protection of life. Seems a bit disingenuous to be both pro-choice and for stricter gun control, but as  I tell my students, “While I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion.” Life matters. All life matters and when our culture seems to value an object more than life, we need to reconsider. Those are my thoughts as I turn now to get back to work.

So as always, thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Oh yes, a small post script: One last thought: the other day was National Coffee Day: it is still one of my favorite things. This little video was posting on FB lately, and in spite of some changes, I appreciate this.

El lado melancolía de la esperanza 


Buenas Domingo Dias,

es un día al grado, pero ha sido una mañana y pensar que lo que me parece que gastar una gran cantidad de tiempo haciendo aquí últimamente. Recuerdo que uno de mis ex estudiantes señaló que tengo un lado melancólico a mi personalidad y de acuerdo con ella. Aquellos de ustedes que están siguiendo mi blog con alguna regularidad probablemente notará, al menos, que siempre me pregunto al tipo de ¿qué pasa si? tipo de pregunta. Todavía me pregunto cómo tengo esta sensación de tristeza, a pesar del hecho de que todavía estoy aparentemente contenido y agradable para la mayoría de la gente que conozco. De hecho, cuando Lydia me preguntaba cada mañana cómo estaba, me generalmente responder, ‘No tengo problemas. ‘ Ella respondía con su ceño fruncido típica y luego decirme que yo era demasiado amable o demasiado feliz. Sin embargo, no estoy seguro de si estoy del todo feliz. Me gusta la gente y me gusta ver y aprender de la gente, pero me parece que llegar nunca al lugar donde estoy relajada y totalmente satisfechos con dónde están las cosas. Casi siempre me siento que hay algo aún por hacer, o más exactamente, algo que debería estar haciendo. Creo que es esa sensación de no estar terminado o todavía necesitan hacer algo de manera más eficaz, más eficiente, más bien, que es mi más potente némesis. Me hubiera gustado que me podría encontrar ese lugar donde yo puedo decir, ‘Está bien. ‘ De nuevo, si has leído los blogs escritos anteriormente, usted sabrá de dónde viene esta enfermedad.

Creo que la consecuencia más importante de esta sensación de ‘debe hacer mejor’ es que yo no soy capaz de dejar ir o relajarse. Además, yo no celebro los éxitos de mi vida; No me tomo el tiempo para ser tan agradecidos por todo con la que he sido bendecido. Eso es triste, y yo lo saben (o yo no estaría escribiendo sobre ello), pero parecen incapaces de superarlo. Hay muy poco que realmente me abruma, ya sea positiva o negativamente. Eso también podría ser una consecuencia de esta necesidad de seguir luchando por la mejora, por algo mejor. Parece que hay un poco de diferencia de ‘verano de mi corazón descontento ‘en los últimos tiempos. Creo que es, en parte, el paso a una nueva década. He encontrado a mí mismo preguntándome qué si yo hubiera trabajado más temprano? ¿Qué pasa si yo tenía mi proverbial ‘mierda juntos’ antes? ¿Tendría todo resultó diferente? Esto no quiere decir, en manera o forma que no soy afortunado o agradecido. Más bien, se preguntaba si yo podría haber sido capaz de ayudar o hacer más. Una vez más, me doy cuenta de que eso significa que estoy haciendo la pregunta de ‘¿es siempre suficiente?’ La semana pasada fue una semana donde me sentí como si estuviera colgando de mis dedos y las uñas se inclinaban más de lo habitual. Incluso le dije a mi jefe de departamento que me sentí abrumado y es muy raro que tengo que admitir ese tipo de cosas, incluso si ocurren con más frecuencia que quisiera admitir.

Ayer hablé con un par por quien tengo el mayor aprecio. Han pasado por mucho para trabajar juntos (incluso conseguir juntos) como pareja. He aprendido más de la lucha que están teniendo con uno de los hijos. Me encontré a mí mismo diciendo cosas mucho más difícil en la medida como una respuesta a este joven de lo que hubiera creído. Yo estaba dispuesto a decir que tiene que salir de la casa si él no está dispuesto a hacer cualquier cosa para mejorarse a sí mismo. Creo que hay mucho que ha hecho de la historia antes difícil, pero no puedo cambiar el pasado. Sólo pueden hacer frente a la actual.Aprendí de nuevo cómo es posible que alguien que ha llegado al país de manera legal y trabaja duro para convertirse en parte de este tejido cultural que llamamos América es tratada como menos porque no son blancos. Es desalentador para mí. Es una de esas cosas en las que quiero levantar mi voz aún más de lo que tengo y decir ‘prestar atención! Todas las vidas son importantes. Sé que hay conversaciones sobre aspectos específicos y puedo apreciar los hashtags, pero en última instancia, cada vida tiene valor. Tenemos que entender eso. Necesitamos creer eso, y entonces tenemos que practicar eso.

Good Sunday Monring,

It is a day to grade, but it has been a morning to drive and think, which what I seem to be spending a great deal of time doing here lately. I am reminded that one of my former students noted that I have a melancholy side to my personality and I agreed with her. Those of you who are following my blog with any regularity will probably note, at the very least, that I am always wondering the sort of what if? sort of question. I still wonder how I have this sense of sadness, in spite of the fact that I am still seemingly content and pleasant to most people I meet. In fact, when Lydia would ask me every morning how I was, I would generally answer, “I have not problems.” I think it is that sense of never being finished or still needing to do something more effectively, more efficiently, more perfectly that is my most potent nemesis. I do wish that I could find that place where I can say, “It is okay.” Again, if you have read previously written blogs, you will know from where this malady comes.

I think the most significant consequence of this feeling of “must do better” is that I am not able to let go or relax. In addition, I do not celebrate the successes of my life; I do not take the time to be as thankful for all with which I have been blessed. That is sad, and I know this (or I would not be writing about it), but I seem incapable of overcoming it. There is very little that actually overwhelms me, either positively or negatively. That also might be a consequence of this need to keep striving for improvement, for something better. There seems to be a bit of difference to “summer of my hearts discontent” as of late. I think it is, in part, the move to a new decade. I have found myself wondering what if I had worked harder earlier? What if I had my proverbial “shit together” earlier? Would it have all turned out differently? This is not to say in way shape or form that I am not fortunate or grateful. Rather, it is wondering if I might have been able to help or do more. Again, I realize that means that I am asking the question of “is it ever enough?” This past week was a week where I felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips and the fingernails were bending more than usual. I even told my department chair that I felt overwhelmed and it is very seldom that I will admit such things, even if they happen more often that I care to admit.

Yesterday I spoke with a couple for whom I have the greatest appreciation. They have gone through so much to work together (to even get together) as a couple. I learned more of the struggle they are having with one of the sons. I found myself saying things much harder as far as a response to this young man than I would have believed. I was willing to say he needs to get out of the house if he is not willing to do anything to better himself. I think there is so much that has made the earlier story difficult, but one cannot change the past. They can only deal with the present. I learned again how it is that someone who has come to the country legally and works hard to become part of this cultural fabric we call America is treated as less than because they are not white. It is discouraging to me. It is one of those things where I want to raise my voice even more than I have and say “pay attention!” All lives matter. I know there are conversations about specifics and I can appreciate those hashtags, but ultimately, every life has value. We need to understand that. We need to believe that, and then we need to practice that.

Okay . . .  I am going to finish this post in English. I have worked hard on my writing and understanding of Spanish, but I need to do a lot work on my speaking and listening yet. I wish I was fluent. It takes practice and time, it is the time and the place I need to be where I am forced to work on it with no options but to learn. Again, I have come a long ways, but I want more. I want to be better. I am not satisfied. What does it take to be satisfied or content. I have noted this once before in a blog, but I find myself here again. I think that is probably why I am told regularly I might have the tightest shoulders and neck that anyone has ever seen. When I was in the Dominican Republic a little over a year (see a blog in August 2014 titled “Michael Jackson and Chocolate,” I think), the masseuse that worked on me said I should go to a massage therapist once a month or so. If I did that I might help myself, but the purpose of this blog is actually to consider the reason for the stress to begin with. I think the issue is simply that I cannot find a sense of contentment. I do believe contentment leads to comfort and relaxation, which can lead a person to being genuinely happy. I think it is the issue of being genuinely happy. There are many who pretend to be happy, but it is a facade. I would not say that what I do is a facade, and in fact, I try my best to be genuine. I think it is that I think too much. Yet, I am not sure that one can do that. Perhaps it is that I think too much about what I can do little, but wish I could do more. Might it be, by so doing, that I set myself up for disappointment, disillusionment, or worse? Sometimes this is what it seems, or definitely feels to be happening. I am realizing two things as I sit here and type. It was on this date in 1973 that I graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp. It was also on this date, four years later that my hero, my Grandmother Louise, passed away. The graduation from boot camp was quite a thing for me because boot camp was difficult for me. There was certainly more than one time that I was not sure I would survive those 80+ days of training. I was not an amazing boot camp participant. I will say that I was pushed to my limit, but to be honest I survived, but there were times that “barely” would be the appropriate adjective. The day I received the call that my grandmother had passed away, I was devastated. She, as, once again, previously noted, taught me more about manners, about being a gentlemen, about love than any person I know, or have ever since met. Lydia would be the other person to be considered in the same sentence or thought process. These two women have done more for me and done more to shape me (there is also my adopted father, Harry Martin) than any other person. There are times I have cried in my life, and I would even admit that those times might only be rivaled by John Boehner, but I sobbed at my grandmother’s funeral. It might be the hardest I have ever cried in my life. To this day, it is hard to verbalize how much I loved her. She is one of the persons I hope might be proud of what I have accomplished.

I do wonder what those forbearers, those ancestors of mine might thing. Recently, I joined, but I am not sure why or what I think I have learned. I need to spend more time, but then again, there is that word . . .  I need more time in everyday, but  I am quite sure I would not get more sleep. I have been sleeping more, and one of my more understanding or insightful friends have merely noted that it is something I need. However, I hate admitting that. . . .  I think I have either wandered or regressed. What is melancholy? I tell me students to not merely use the dictionary and put it into their paper and therefore I will not use that . . .  but the synonyms of pensive or lugubrious come to mind. For me, there is a reason, in spite of the fact that for many others it is not obvious. A year ago I was struggling to understand the concept of privilege and how that privilege created a chasm between me and someone for whom I had unparalleled appreciation. I have learned that sometimes you need to let people go and in the distance both learn. I think what I do is hang on to those I have lost and I mourn that loss more than most might realize. I realize that the normal changes in our lives create the reality of both loss and opportunity. Yet, I desire to hope. I think listening to Pope Francis this past week I have learned a great deal about the idea of hope, hope that is based on understanding, believing in the power of human dignity, and an unfathomable deep and abiding faith. I wish I might have been in a position to see him in person, even if it were from a distance. I think he is a Pope that I do want to see. It is a combination of his Jesuit background as well as his native Spanish that also intrigues me. It was fun this week to listen to some of his words and being able to understand some of the Spanish I was hearing.

Hope is something we all need as humans. We need to believe that there is a possibility of something better, but I think too often we are shattered by crush of our daily lives to see the future. It is interesting to me that we have more access to information and the ability to understand our world than ever before, but the consequence is we become overloaded, overwhelmed, and ultimately over stressed. Yet, hope is fundamental to our life. The couple of whom I was speaking earlier in the post and I had a conversation about this very thing yesterday. When people have no sense of hope their actions in the present are very different. They do not think or worry about the future because they see no sense or purpose in so doing. Therefore they fixate on the present and that becomes a selfish wanting in the here and now. I see this in many, but fortunately, I see something different in many of my students. Their hard work, their inquisitiveness, and their belief that what they are doing matters gives me hope. Perhaps there is hope for a future. Students today are much more open to diversity, to inclusiveness, and to accepting the other than my generation. Those things give this melancholy spirit something to hold on to, to believe in, to pin myself to something more than a pipe dream . . . thank goodness.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Thinking Carefully; Wondering Broadly


Good Morning from the diner,

As I write this I have reminisced and realized that on this date, my Great-aunt Helen, probably one of the more elegant women I have ever known, would be celebrating a birthday today. I need to do some searching on a year, but I am imagining she would be around 108 or so. In addition, four years ago today the reality of a flood in Bloomsburg was terrifically apparent. That flood crested at 32.75 feet and the consequence of the flood is actually still felt here in town. The third significant thing that occurred in my life was a pretty serious motorcycle accident. I ended up with two skull fractures, serious facial surgery, and even more significant hand surgery. My little finger on my left hand is a veritable hardware store. I was fortunate and have been fortunate in so many ways. This past week I feel like I am still trying to get my feet firmly underneath me and some sense or semblance of order to the semester.

That semblance is still struggling because it is now the weekend and I had begun this on Tuesday. Part of that might be that I have been technologically challenged again this week. First I misplaced my phone and then it seems it needed to be reset again. It is just now, Sunday that it is working reasonably well again. This is the third time I have had to completed restore it. That little process takes about 3 or 4 hours. I need to get a hold of a number of people as I just got their texts and or other attempts to get a hold of me. I need to put in perhaps one of the most labor intensive weeks that I have had in a long time this coming week. Along with other things that have occurred, I was elected the chairperson of the Evaluation Committee this week. That will also be a labor intensive thing, but I will manage it also.  It is hard for me to believe that 14 years have passed since the fateful September day in 2001. What is harder for me to imagine is what the world was like before that time. It is almost like we were in a world of naiveté . . .  and looking back with 14 years of hindsight, we certainly were. There are two substantive differences that I have noticed personally. Because I have flown as much as I have, the reality of flying today and the fact that there is nothing really enjoyable about it is a difference to me. I used to look forward to the idea of being on a plane. Those days are long past, and it is not merely the cramped or overcrowding . . .  it is the way that we are treated in general. We have become numb to the cattle-like herding that seems indicative of most airline travel. We have learned to manage lines, inspections, questions, and a general sense of mistrust like that is normal. It is normal, but the very fact that it has become the norm is undeniably sad. The second thing that has changed for me (personably as an observer) is the way that we have learned to mistrust others as a general course of action. As groups like ISIL (ISIS) or Al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups continue to skew the image of Islam in the world, the unfortunate consequence for all Islamic people is they are viewed suspiciously. I have amazing students who are Turkish, Egyptian, Sudanese, or other predominately Muslim countries and I cannot imagine what they must put up with daily because they choose to wear a hijab or because they look either Middle Eastern or North African. These changes in the world, while I understand them, cause me more sadness than anger or suspicion.

I remember the day following 911 and a student in my second semester composition course at Michigan Tech noted in my class unapologetically, “You deserved what happened yesterday.” This student from the UAE was unbowed in his opinion and the uproar that occurred in the class and my attempt to focus on what he said as well as wonder a bit more broadly was one of the more delicate rhetorical moves I have ever had to make in a class. I remember the project we did in that class that semester and the amazing work those students did to manage a response that focused on the community of caring and giving that was created out of that tragic day. There was a sense of caring globally that was outstanding and unparalleled. I wish we had more of that yet now or that we might have held on to it. There are a number of places where it seems not only have we lost it, but we are in a much more dangerous position that perhaps anytime in history. The first place I would not for that disharmony is in our nation’s capitol. I understand this is only my opinion, but I think the founders of this country would appalled, or quite sad, that their grand experiment has seemed to be reduced to such rancor that it seems that even the most mundane piece of legislation has become a marathon to complete. I cannot imagine they would be impressed that Donald Trump finds it appropriate to speak about Carly Fiorina’s face as if that were a politically reasonable way to manage a campaign. While I am all for spirited debate and appropriate arguments, and even being passionate about what one argues, the reality of the present campaign pains me more than words can express. Donald Trump is nothing more than a rich kid, sandbox bully. I might even be willing to allow that he has some intelligence, but use that first rather than after the fact. That is my soapbox rant for this blog.

In the days that I worked in graduate school after 911, I worked on a project for one of my mentors. That was a project that looked at the images of 911 as well as some of what we might call remix songs. One of them that still moves me is what I am posting here.

I cannot watch this even fourteen years later and not have chills up and down my body. I have not gotten over to see the 911 Memorial in NYC yet, but I need to do that. I am reminded that so many people’s lives were irreparably changed that day, but so was a national fabric, in fact, the world fabric. What creates such hate among people? I am forced to think carefully and wonder yet more broadly to try to find such an answer to such a difficult question.  I cannot imagine what that day must have been like for all of those in Manhattan and the boroughs of New York City. I know how shocked we were in the rural and seemingly protected Upper Peninsula. I have found another video that as I watched it brought tears to my eyes.

If you might take a moment to think about your own attitudes and your own change in perception since that day, it might be a good thing. Who are we as people? What is our purpose as people? From where does the hatred for one another because of difference in skin color, religion, socio-economic class, or orientation come? What makes one person better or more entitled than another? These are the questions that permeate my thoughts as I consider the post 911 world? What allows a person’s religious beliefs to trump their political or civic responsibility? What happens when people proof-text and use the Bible to uphold their bigotry or self-righteousness? What happens when we believe we have the right answers and, therefore, the answers or views of another are considered wrong, or unchristian, or something of less value than ours? We end up with a world of mistrust and hatred. We end up with a world that marginalized the other.

During the coming week I will turn 60 years old. I am not exactly sure how I have ended up where I have. When I graduated from high school as an small, naïve, and wide-eyed Midwestern boy going into Marine Corps boot camp, I had no idea that I would be were I am today. When I met the first girl I really liked as an adult barely out of the service, I ever realized how much another person could influence my life. As I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team member, I had no idea that the persons I met that year would be part of the remainder of my days. As I arrived at that small liberal arts college in Nebraska, I had no idea that so many of the people I met and the things I learned would create such an amazing educational foundation (and that is about life as well as academics). Since that time, I have been involved in education pretty much non-stop, I have learned that everything I do has a teaching element to it. It is who I am. I love to help others learn and improve their lives. I have become a pondering person, one to generally thinks more carefully and wonder more broadly. What are the consequences of our actions and how does what we do affect others long after we are no longer there? I did not think that turning 60 would be that monumental. The only other birthday that I have found significant in my life was 25. Somehow, it seems this one might outpace that one in terms of personal impact. I am not entirely sure, but I am realizing that I am thinking about the remainder of my life more carefully and, yes, perhaps, more broadly than ever before. What I know for sure is there is nothing promised and there are no guarantees. That is also a consequence of 911 for me. We have no idea where the end is. I am realizing that my grandmother, my hero, only lived to be four years older than this coming birthday. My mother only eight years  longer. I am not sure I have ever thought of entering a decade that might be my last, but I am realizing that is a more likely possibility than the previous decades. I am not trying to sound fatalistic, but rather, I am being more cognizant of the fact that each day is a gift and there is a lot more to consider. I also realize I have a lot I would still like to do. So . . . . with that in mind, it is time to get to it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin