A List of Oxymorons:

Hello from the side yard patio and fire pit of the Martin homestead,

There are a variety of reasons for me to use the introduction I have, as well as the title. In spite of the fact that I did take a week to go to the Dominican Republic, and even in spite of the fact I did relax at times, I worked their both on my own writing and on trying to get answers to a myriad of questions, thereby making sure I do not misrepresent anything that might be advertised on the travel website. The fact that I am writing now is related to work because I have learned that blogging clears my head and allows me to focus on the seemingly never ending stream of things to which we all must attend. Today I was in the grocery store. One of the morning regulars at the diner noted that life must be easy now because I had nothing to do. I smiled and answered cordially, “I wish I could explain why that is not the case because I will be doing some kind of work most of the summer.” But then neither she, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, nor the editor of the local paper, whose only job since graduating from Bloomsburg University since 1974 has been at the Press Enterprise, seem to have a frickin’ clue about how hard faculty work or the hours outside the classroom are given on behalf of the students or the town. Something pretty terrible must have happened to Mr. Sachetti when he was a student to disparage his alma mater and every aspect of her at any available opportunity. And while I certainly realize editorials are opinions as well as the fact that he has a soap box from which he can toss things, the continual trash and “misstated information,” he offers is disingenuous when it is”factually suspect.” What he does is beyond unethical and provides plenty of examples for current students  or writers of what should not be done in a local paper. The biased way he has treated the faculty of the university by the partial and slanted slime he has published in the time I have lived here is unconscionable. I am sure the latest is merely a harbinger of what is to come. Finally, the third on the list is again a view of some who have I have foolishly allowed to put me into a bind on a number of different levels. We are all flawed and I certainly know this from my own shortcomings, but I seem to provide ample opportunity to allow others to prove their shortcomings because I wish to trust first and ask questions later.

Back to summer vacation. As I noted at the beginning of this post, summer vacation for most tenure-track faculty is the time when they can finally focus on research and writing or travel and research, which is necessary for them to move up the ranks to full professor. For some it is still time to teach and try to prepare for classes in the fall. For me, who came to create a program that would provide students with professional writing skills, a great amount of energy has gone into the development of that program. Every year when the above mentioned “journalist” chooses to publish our salaries he fails to explain the number of years the faculty listed labored in college or graduate school. He fails to mention that most faculty spent 40-60 hours a week on all the things that are required by a 4/4 teaching load. He fails to note that we have worked 33 months without a contract in the last 7 years showing up to work daily and working without fail to provide the 9,000+ students with a “quality education” (PASSHE language not mine). While I would like to go and travel again, I have four preps this fall, including a new one, one to help RNs get their BSN. Latest on that class is they want to open it to all healthcare students, which I think would be fine. I will have to rethink some assignments, but I think it is manageable. This past few days, including today, which is Saturday, I was in my office for over 8 hours working on syllabi and the course delivery tool for just one of the classes. It took me about 30 hours and I still have some work to do. Because I teach classes that deal with the use of technology and writing, the course is never the same from the previous iteration. This means new reading, rethinking and revising assignments and trying to keep up with the latest trends or scholarship in the field of professional writing and digital rhetoric. It means scouring data bases and new articles. I wish Mr. Sachetti would watch me for a week or two before school starts. I could hope he might provide a different view of the faculty. Instead, I think he has sold his soul to “el diablo de manga y sensacionalismo” like so many other pretend journalists. Before you think I do not realize some of the benefits and perks or options I have because of being in the academy, I do, but I also commit every ounce of my being to my job. Last week, because I worked with specific summer freshmen, instead of needing grades turned around in four or five days, I had 12 hours. Yet, I had them done. The fall will, undoubtedly demonstrate the bias of our local prince of print as he wields his poison pen or malicious manos on the keyboard to claim that faculty are spoiled, self-centered, and out of touch with reality as we argue about the quality education and demonstrate care for students. I have little doubt that he will again pull things out of context and twist information or facts to serve his own insecure purposes. Again I am forced to wonder what his alma mater did to have him turn such a deaf ear to the very faculty who taught him and conjour such contempt for the very institution that helps the town of Bloomsburg thrive.

Last, but certainly not least, my kindness to so many who I have helped, some in significant ways, had left me disillusioned and, to put it mildly, angry. I must admit that it is much my own fault because I want to help others as I myself have been helped. I certainly would not be where I am without the help of a great-uncle and great-aunt at one point. I would not be where I am if it were not for some people during my internship year or eve when I was first a parish pastor. I would not have made so painlessly if it were not for my seminary classmate, Karsten, to whom I finally have his assistance returned. If it were not for Lydia and how she has helped me that I would be where I am now. Over these past years I tired to give as she gave to me, but people promised so much and have returned so little on their promises. They have put me into a bind. Indeed, it is technically of my own making because I trusted their word. I am tempted to list names, but instead, I will show some class. One of my colleagues noted Ian the worst loan shark in the world. I think he is correct. What it has done has soured me on trusting much of anything or anyone. We’ll see what happens after this next week. . . . As is generally the case, it seems it is taking me longer to write this but I had hoped. Condition I probably need to do some editing because I’ve been a rather tough on people. I had planned to go into the office early this morning, but as the adage says, “best laid plans often go awry.” A detour for fluids took up part in the morning. It seems anything taken orally for hydration seems to play hide and seek with my insides. I am working with my nutritionist again to see if we can come up with a solution. I have worked on restricting the diet once again, and have been for awhile. I guess I am doing better over all, but it is still frustrating to me. Well, more work in the office today and trying to focus on the last pieces of a project. Meetings for the fall seem to have found their way onto the calendar on multiple days already. I think the oxymoron of which I first wrote for this post continues.

Back to playing Sisyphus. As always, thank you for reading.


90 Years of Life and at 92, I remember

Lydia_posed_3 sized

Hello on a late Friday morning,

I am in my office and have been watching some videos of the Kennedy (JFK assassination) and listening to audio tapes from Jacqueline Kennedy that were released much later. I have always been fascinated by that time in history. Perhaps because I was a little boy at the time and it is such a memorable part of my 3rd grade year. Perhaps because it is a time, albeit somewhat naively, that we believed in our government. There is so much that makes me wonder about the fate of our humanity. There is so much dissension and discord, but that is nothing new, and I know that. Perhaps it is the melancholia that is part of my inner self. Today I received the most wonderful message from a former college classmate, a person for whom I have appreciation and even more so, admiration. She is wise, caring, and brilliant. She is philosophical and understanding, perceptive and caring. It was certainly a breath of fresh aire (in a sort of Mannheim Steamroller way). Yesterday was a long day with the ending of the session and it has been a long week because of other things. There are times I have to learn that caring gets me in trouble. I am reminded of the words of Norman Maclean in the novella, A River Runs Through It: “It is often the ones we live with and love, the ones we care about the most who elude us. Even now when I look back . . . on my youth I long to understand what happened there . . . and why.” I wonder at times why my mind seems to never stop its pondering. I wonder why I imagine things that never were and wonder why not . . . . sort of in the way Teddy Kennedy eulogized his brother, Robert, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on that June day in 1968, a speech often considered to be one of the most rhetorically profound.

I was told again that I take on too much, but it is way my brain works and my emotions follow. It is a way that a pattern seemingly reappears in my life, but I seem not to learn. It is merely stubbornness on my part or a character flaw that I cannot manage to overcome? Is all of this because I am merely trying to imagine myself as old? I wish my Uncle Clare were still around. It would be interesting to ask him what it was like to be alone for such a long period in his life, though he was 64 when he became a widower. He lived to be 91 or 92, I cannot remember for sure. As some have found out, and for that I am truly sorry, when I get too close to a situation or to people I have a tendency (or a habit) of running away. And yet, I am not completely sure why . . .  I certainly have ideas, theories or assumptions, but I am not completely sure that I can say unfailingly, “This is why.” Today in a caring and reasonable way, I was told to extricate myself from a situation. While it is hurtful to hear that, it is certainly for the better. For me, the struggle is not necessarily going away, but knowing whether it is done with a sense of merely a change or having the door shut on me. Time will tell. I must also admit that I have done the same to others, so maybe it is karma coming back to bite me. As there is a sense that while I am losing something I valued, I am also being saved. Hard to tell onto which thought I should hold. Perhaps it is because the need for help has changed, but that would be a bit cynical and unfair. It is something that I need to merely be glad I helped when help was needed and now that I am not needed to learn that does not mean I am not cared for. That is my difficulty. Is it too much again to be that honest with my frailties? Is it being too honest with my thoughts and emotions? Sometimes I wonder, but then again, I do not believe that I am that different that I am the only one to struggle with such issues. I am hoping that two things might happen in this writing. First, it helps me figure myself out, but more importantly that it might help someone else who struggles in the same way. I know that the need for being around people and the need for solitude is a constant battle for me. I am sure that some people from my earlier years might find it hard to imagine me wishing for a sort of hermit-existence. I remember my pastoral colleague once telling me the worst thing that could happen to me was that I might be locked in my office alone with no phone. You can ask people, now there are times that I leave my phone at home and I am not really accessible. I will say that I do not do it on purpose, but I never, or at least seldom, feel that missing that thing in my hand or pocket is some trauma. I am actually adding to this. It is now Friday night and after a trip to my nutritionist today, I am feeling like perhaps I have a way to handle the latest of health dilemmas. It is not a new dilemma, and in fact goes back into the 90s, but it does seems to be a more pertinent issue now.

Yesterday was a long day because I know what I am doing when I worked on grades and responses to people in a program I am deciding things about their lives. I take this seriously and I really take it to heart. I was that first generation college student who once squandered the opportunity to be in college and had to figure things out. I say regularly that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they had little idea what it meant to prepare me either academically or financially. This is not to speak poorly of them, but there was no point of reference. College and the idea that people needed to prepare and go was outside of their scope of knowledge. It was something about which they had little or no preparation themselves. I saw college as something rich people were able to do for their children and I was not that person. My father was 44 when he adopted a 4 year old and his 3 year old sister. When I graduated from high school he was wondering about retirement and had a wife with a multitude of health issues. It was for me to figure out and while I know now that I was not an incapable high school student, I was a lazy student, doing things well when I was interested, but I did not follow through long enough or well enough. No school was knocking on my door to ask me to come there and I had little idea of what I hoped to do or why. I am not that much different from the summer students I have just spent that last six weeks teaching and mentoring (and it is both). While there are certainly some students who squander the six weeks they are here, there are others who try to understand what is being asked of them and also try to manage it, in spite of their lack of preparation. When I consider the students from the summer, I had everything from seniors to 15 year olds. In the group of students, one earned an A and two managed to fail their summer class. The rest were in the B and C ranges and covering everything in that range. Some took a bit of time to figure out what was happening. One student has things figured out as a 17 year old in ways I do not think I have even yet. She took three classes and worked 20 hours a week. Because of her own writing, I know her background and she is doing most of this on her own. She has figured it out on her own. Remarkable is the epitome of understatement.

Today is the anniversary of Lydia’s birthday. She would be 92 today. She still permeates everything I do and imagine. Honestly I still have tears when I realize how much I miss her and how much I loved her. She is the one person in the past 16 or 17 years that found her way into my heart and from whom I did not want to run away. How did that happen? I still remember the day I first met her and looked at the little house. She was so sweet and adorable. I did not realize at the time that she was as lonely as she was because she was so self-assured. She was stylish and refined, and that Austrian accent,something I never had a problem understanding, was merely another endearing quality of the little two-digit-midget. I have told some that I put my life on hold for her, but now I am not sure that was true. We lived our lives as a little family that was gifted to us in the most unexpected way. In the twilight years of her life I became the son she was never able to have and she became more of a mother to me, and the best one of the three I have had. I can remember the sound of her voice out her third floor window when I came home late from school or somewhere else. “Michael, is that you?” “Yes, Lydia,” I would respond. She would then tell me she just happened to look out. What I knew is she had been watching because she wanted to know she was not alone. That is not what I expected when I first came to the circle. I did not know that I would be the person charged with taking care of her in ways I could not have imagined. She hated (her words) when people paid attention to her for a birthday or a holiday, but I think she secretly liked that people fussed over her. She had been alone for so long and it was important for her to not be lonely, even in her solitude. What I have come to understand is that she had an incredible heart and actually enjoyed giving to others. She and I are similar in that way, but she wanted to be in charge of how that happened. I think I am a mirror image of her in this also. As I have been working on things in my yard and around the house this spring and summer I have found myself with a broom and dustpan. She would be so proud of me. I find myself picking weeds and plucking up the random twig or branch. I guess she has rubbed off on me more than I expected. As I think of you on the anniversary of your birth Lydia, I miss you. I still love you more than I have words.

Es ist schwierig für mich zu glauben, dass du so lange weg sind. Es ist schwieriger für mich zu sagen, dass ich immer noch Dinge für Sie zu tun haben. Ich werde es in der nächsten Woche zu erledigen oder so. Ich wünschte, mein Leben würde verlangsamen. Ich bewundere noch, wie Sie alle geschafft, Sie getan haben. Ich habe das Glück, dass ich in der Lage war, mit Ihnen ein Jahrzehnt zu teilen. Ich bin auch jetzt durch Ihre Liebe gesegnet. Wie Sie wissen, zieren Sie Ihre Bilder mein Haus ihr und ich sehe dich jeden Tag. Ich liebe dich, meine Leihmutter.

As I consider our temporary place in this world, I am reminded of my favorite Rock n Roll band and one of its most well- known songs.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.


Civility and Community

Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Good afternoon from my porch,

As I begin this post, my spirit aches; my optimism, which is usually strong, is fragile; my disillusionment with our penchant for violence and revenge has weighed me down, and the words “liberty and justice for all,” which are foundational to our national fabric ring hollow and empty. How did we come to this place? From what abysmal chasm do we find ourselves crying out in the words of the Psalmist, “how long O Lord??!!”

Black men and police officers are dead. Wives, significant others, children, and extended family are left to pick up the pieces. Families of victims, yes, even the families of those who pulled triggers, are left to pick up the shards, trying to go in with their lives that have been shattered by the violence, either perpetrated or experienced. The locality in Minnesota is where I spent 5 years of my life in seminary. I know that little community and those streets. I have walked and driven them hundreds of times. It seems like someone took a time and place I remember fondly and sullied ( I use this word because it is more acceptable than the one which immediately comes to mind) it beyond repair. As the summer has continued, I  have not gotten more done on this post (it is probably the longest between blog posts in two years) and now as I finally return to it, both party conventions are in the books and we certainly have an upcoming election that will be unlike any other in our history. To most who read this blog and have a pretty good sense of where my political leaning fall, I would note that there are issues for me even when I say I am supporting Sec/Senator/former-First Lady Clinton. I struggle with the email issue for a number of reasons, and I certainly know that others used their email in unsecure ways, but I do believe her decisions regarding the choice to use a private server were misguided and foolish. I wonder how she came to implement such a choice. There I have noted that. I also believe her resume in unparalleled, certainly in recent history, as far as being qualified to be our president. I do believe that she could have managed the issue with the email better than she did, but I imagine she does also. I do not believe that she would intentionally work with classified documents (knowingly send marked classified information) in a unsecure way. If I am proven wrong there (and the Director of the FBI, who is Republican and was appointed by George W Bush, seems to believe there is not enough to make such a claim) I will rethink my position. I have watched YouTube video that have been edited to make her seem as the devil incarnate. If we want to “play that game,” @therealdonaldtrump’s encouragement of the Russians to continue to hack into our networks should certainly raise eyebrows (as well as some other things) as paramount to a kind of treason. In a war situation, I am sure he might be before a firing squad, which is what one of our elected leaders said should happen to Mrs. Clinton. My issue here is where we seem to have disintegrated as an American society. It is appalling to me that we have such vitriol on most every issue. Furthermore, when President Obama has raised concern about some of this (and certainly is justified as a black person) or questioned the National Rifle Association, he is considered anti-constitutional. When Donald Trump calls Mexican rapists, makes fun of disabled people, accused a female reporter of menstrual issues, wants to ban a complete religion, or any other kind of lying ignorance, which seems par for the course on a daily basis, people call him a patriot. What the French toast? I am stunned by the bigotry, the foolishness, and the xenophobic tenor of our country. I am stunned by the fact (and perhaps not as much as I wish I should be) by the red-necked, uneducated, white, male block that seems to give this unabashed ass such support. I know and respect some who are uneducated, but still support him based on what seems to be little more than Second Amendment protectionism and a whole-hearted buy in to seeing Hillary as the anti-Christ. While the British are probably still reeling from Brexit, most of the world is looking at us questioning, what the hell are you all doing? I know this from some of my travels and the reading I do.

As I move into the last week of summer classes, I realize how the summer has flown by and I am struggling yet to manage my life. I seem to get more tired quicker. I seem to get overwhelmed and almost paralyzed by what is on my plate versus merely soldiering through like I have done most of my life. I am still realizing that the loss of two people who were so important to me last year and then the loss again of someone much too young this year or that realization of losing a last biological parent, in spite of the fact that I had no real relationship with her, has taken more out of me than I ever imagined. There is the struggle of when I asked for some clarification I received little more than a dismissive and scornful retort. Some of the reality of what I have lost in the removal of such amazing people in my life has taken a toll beyond what I ever expected. Sometimes, the fragility of our existence seems to hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks and that has appears to be the case. I think it is in my own reality and depression. I feel like I cannot cope with as much as I have normally done. I feel like I cannot focus as well as I have done in the past. I feel like I fail people more than I help them at times. It is a frightening thing for me. The question becomes to where do I turn for the strength that I need. That is something that has escaped me as of late. I wish that there was so much more I could do to focus. I wish there was so much more I could do to be more productive. I wish there was so much more I could do to feel accomplished or successful.

A few weeks ago I spoke with someone I have known since I was 5 or 6 years old. Growing up next door, there was so much shared in the neighborhood in the 1960s. It is true that people were more invested in each other. I remember the number of children on the block was in its teens or twenties, but everyone watched out for each other. It was a given that if I got in trouble somewhere else, I would be in trouble when I got home. In fact, my mother would know about it before I got there. In this case, it is amazing that their mother is 100 years old. It is amazing to me that we have been in touch for over 50 years. We had the most significant chat we have probably had most of our lives. It is interesting how our lives and moved in and out of the realms of influence and connectivity, but somehow we have never lost touch. It is a blessing that means more to me than words and something I did not really expect. I think that is how real blessings are. It is the unexpected, the undeserved things that happen in our lives that are so wonderful. I think unfortunately too often what begins as a blessing or a help can become a burden. To paraphrase the Occasional Services Book, [w]hen our lives are the product of our humanity, that which begins as a blessing becomes a burden (27). It is more of a struggle than we anticipate. For me the difficulty is believing the best in the other. Wanting to believe that the loyalty I have is the same. Then there is my own fragility and feeling overwhelmed, which seems to happen when it is reciprocated. I get frightened. What I have realized is I feel out of control and concerned that I am unworthy or definitely not worthy enough for this reciprocation. What is interesting is the oxymoronic nature of what I am describing, and I understand that. It is that I am not sure what to do with it. Today, in typical fashion, I have tried to help another person, currently in the proverbial rock-and-hard-spot. What I expected and what ended up happening is remarkably different, but again that is no surprise. It is a typical lack of understanding of someone younger about the reality of those life moments that you hope happen only once in a life time. For those who have read the blog in the past, those AFGE moments. I want to get this blog finished and posted. The past few weeks have been difficult for me, but as I noted actually the loss of Lydia still has me reeling. She was such a force, but she also made my life more complete. I told someone last night, who has known me (and her) that I put my life on hold in a way for her, but it was not done begrudgingly or in some sense of obligation. It was done because together we actually had fun together. She made me smile (she could also exasperate me), and she genuinely loved me and I loved her. I miss that even now.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time in my office,  but last night it seems I had another one of my spells. At least this time I was not alone. I think at some point I will probably pass like my grandmother. There are times I worry about that happening when I am alone, but then again, that would be probably best because no one has to experience that. All of this is certainly not to sound morbid nor fatalistic, but it is the reality of my life and the fact that I have significant health issues. However, I have had health issues most of my life, and certainly since I was in my late 2os. It was the one of the things my ex-wife, Susan, noted the last time we spoke face-to face (at least as married people). She noted she was tired of being married to a wimp. I do think I saw her one more time at Dana, when I went for a homecoming and had a student from Suomi College with me. In fact, the very things I thought about that student have come to fruition some 20 years later as he is now an ordained Lutheran pastor. Unquestionably, life is a remarkable journey. It is full of expectations, but unplanned occurrences. I have noted in the past that I am not sure what I imagined as probable. I am not sure what I believed I would or could become. There are times, I am not sure what I have become. I hear things and I am grateful for the chances I have had to have a positive influence. I know there are times I have also failed, and for those moments, I feel more regret that some might imagine. There are times I have acted in a ridiculous way that certainly hurt and undermined the good I have done. There are times my frailty and my lack of esteem or control have caused me embarrassment and the other harm. I think of times with Theresa, my second wife. I learned a lot through that experience and it has changed how I manage so much. There were two periods in my life where alcohol abuse caused me potential harm (and others) and there is more than one occasion where my living through that foolish night is a miracle. I guess this is my way of apologizing for those times I have been less than the person I should be. Again, it seems that my return to Pennsylvania has been good and created a period where I can say I feel I have done more helpful than harmful. I wish I could forgive myself as much as some others have offered me forgiveness. That is something on which I need to work. It is a matter of continuing to grow. It is about civility. That is where I started this blog. Civility in our discourse seems to be lacking on a number of levels from colleagues to the election. It is frightening, but I am on the only person I can take care of. I hope to continue to grow and improve in all areas of my life. It is all I can do. In the meantime, I offer this video of the hymn at the end, which gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.

To all, thanks for reading,


Agent Provocateur 

Good early morning,

It is a little after 3:00 a.m. and I have been awake for some time. Another headache it seems has me awake, but these headaches seem to be getting worse. My mind is also full of so many things, and I must admit that since my return from the week in the Dominican Republic, life seems to have overwhelmed me in more ways than imagined. While I have gotten some things done in the yard, little else has been accomplished and I seem to have little sense on managing, or more accurately how to manage even the basic things. Why do I get into these times. I think part of it has been something That has plagued me my entire life. In spite of the fact that I did take a week to go to the Dominican Republic, and even in spite of the fact I did relax at times, I worked their both on my own writing and on trying to get answers to a myriad of questions, thereby making sure I do not misrepresent anything that might be advertised on the travel website. The fact that I am writing now is related to work because I have learned that blogging clears my head and allows me to focus on the seemingly never ending stream of things to which we all must attend. Today I was in the grocery store. One of the morning regulars at the diner noted that life must be easy now because I had nothing to do. I smiled and answered cordially, “I wish that was the case.” Of course, I could wxplain the concept of teaching/publication/service, but it will not make a lot of sense for those not in the throes of academia. Now, lest you think I am throwing my own party begging for condolences, I can assure that is not the case. I think I knew there would been significant work literally year round, but the adage of knowing versus living it is an entirely different reality. What follows is neither a rant nor wishing for a different life, but please bear with me as I explain thing from the inside.

For many I think the teaching profession at any level is a sort of that inticing lifestyle of extended vacations and scheduled time off. In fact, as noted, most unfortunately, by both a system chancellor and a provost because we are only contracted 17 hours a week, there should be no problem to add a class or an extra prep, both of which are proposals in our current contract negotiations. There is a certain supposed seductiveness to being a teacher or professor because the job is easy, rewarding and respected. I guess one out of three is not bad. There is not really that much easy about being a writing professor. Furthermore, I do not think I have to research very hard to demonstrate pretty clearly that educators have been more frequently demonized as greedy, lazy, and merely in the profession for those supposed perks. The very move to programs like NCLB were implemented to assess what actually happens in our classrooms. This assessment occurs at all levels, and case in point is the yet one more level of approval needed for a program I have worked on for the past few years. The best part of this was that we were not even aware of this next level requirement and they want it completed by July 1st. So, here we go. The agent provocateur seems to be the belief that assessment will reveal and fix any issues at any level. What happened to good pedagogy and students who come to class willing to learn and put in the appropriate work? This morning, while speaking with a colleague, there was a conversation about how students can graduate from high school having missed too many classes or not doing their work. The consequence in my class is they come in under-prepared or not capable of managing the level of work expected. When students come to me and cannot really write a coherent paragraph, have little to no idea how to use sources correctly, and are overwhelmed by both the quantity and quality of work expected, it is a tough semester. However, I cannot blame it entirely on the student. There is a public school system and yes, I know there are tests. There are issues with parents and the parental role in making sure their son or daughter values and is invested in their own education. The amount of things I could write here are extreme.

Then there is what is happening at the university level. The following is the first offer tendered by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to us as faculty after we have worked for another year without a contract. The following is a quote from the press release of last Friday.

Negotiators for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties are outraged after today’s bargaining session with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, held at APSCUF’s Harrisburg office.

The State System’s comprehensive contract proposal includes:

· Increasing the minimum number of courses adjuncts must teach to be considered full-time employees — but without increasing pay, effectively cutting their salaries by 20 percent

· Permitting people without master’s or doctoral degrees to teach courses

· Increasing the number of different courses tenured faculty have to teach in a semester

· Giving administrators the unfettered ability to move faculty members among departments and teaching sites

· Attempting to shift nearly $9 million in healthcare costs to faculty, including adjunct faculty who will pay more with reduced salaries

· Eliminating funding used by faculty to keep up-to-date in their disciplines

If your jaw is dropping, so was mine after looking at this. First of all, the 30th of June we have worked in good faith without a contract for a year, and this is the first comprehensive proposal the state has offered. Let me offer some thought about the consequences of their proposal.

First, if some are teaching 5 classes and some are teaching 4 classes, students will get two levels of instruction because there are only so many hours in the day. Particularly as a writing instructor, the additional section would mean less work assigned because there is not enough time to grade. That does not count what it will do to the morale of the adjunct professor or what it would do to whom would be willing to work under those conditions.

Second, permitting people without graduate degrees to teach courses. While this is not really fleshed out here, what does it mean that graduate degrees are no longer required to teach at the collegiate level? Why would someone need to come to college to begin with? What will it do to the value or the ethos of the degree from a PASSHE school? And this is the State System, who are supposedly in the business of educating the citizens of the commonwealth. Pardon me, but WTFT?

Third, moving to four preps from three preps significantly increases the work load each semester and again, particularly in the writing field, the consequence for the quality of courses will definitely suffer. What about what is best for students? Where do they fit in this discussion?

Fourth, this is another word for retention, which means that tenure and the degree or expertise that someone has is of no consequence. This again places both faculty and students in untenable positions. I am sorry, but I am not qualified to teach an upper level (and probably not a lower level) collegiate course in Biology or Chemistry. There is a reason I got hired with a particular degree and was put in a specific department. Are we merely a high school and doing substitute teaching? Seeing what some of our administrators have done already, this is a recipe for disaster and unfair to the students who are still paying more and more tuition for a very watered-down education. What does it say when the university itself undermines the education a student can receive.

Fifth, the issue of health care and pensions is going to get hit and I do understand that. We got hit last time. The long and short of that is that it affects both our security and the long-term. So has the three steps I have lost in seven years. The issue of pension will affect others more than me, but it affects how we can attract new faculty.

Sixth, funding for professional development has been on the decline for some time. This too affects both the professor and the student because it is harder to keep up in the field and state abreast of changes. This affects pedagogy and information in the classroom.

Ultimately, all of these asinine proposals affect students and the quality of education they can receive. It is both aggravating and heartbreaking that a state system would have the audacity to forward such a proposal to the faculty union in what is supposed to be good-faith bargaining. We should be outraged that we (and students, by extension) are treated with such disdain. We have two conference calls scheduled today to manage this absurdity. It will be an interesting day. . . . 

Time passes and it had already been a month. In terms of the earlier part of this post. Little had changed on the job front. We have now worked more than a year without a contract; the SSHE, as they now prefer to be called, had made significant money because they have gone over a year again without a contract and not have to pay any steps. Twice in the time I have been here at BU, I have lost steps because of no contract. This affects my retirement and my pension. The state has made tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars off the faculty. And yet they want more from us. One particular administrator got a $42,000 raise last year. That is more in one year than I have made in seven. And I do not begrudge his salary; however,  do not begrudge mine. To be be part of the committee working against a very faculty you claim to support for me is outrageous. It saddens me. 

In spite of no contract, I am back in the classroom and I am finished one third of the summer session. Certainly I understand I make extra money for working the summer but I need that money. Reasons for that are more complex than I can go into at this point but suffice it to say I continue to work. I did not always appreciate the value my father put on labor unions but now I do. There’s also much more I could write but I need to get this posted because it is been too long. So, as always,

Thank you for reading. 

Dr. Martin

De vuelta en la República Dominicana 

Buenos días,
I debe haber por fin se relajó más de lo que creía posible en los últimos tiempos, mientras dormía casi 12 horas (y sólo una vez) después de llegar ayer. Después de despertar esta mañana, me duché y organizó el día. Me estoy reuniendo con Ana esta mañana para preguntar acerca de cualquier material en línea que puedan tener para ayudar con nuestra presencia en la web. Una vez más debo admitir mis errores y tomar nota de que el Sr. Galán era correcta. Yo tan atrapados en conocer las piezas correctamente que pierdo la imagen más grande. Creo que mi español era en mucho mejor forma hace dos años (que era la tutoría y que me exigía perfeccionar mi pronunciación de Melissa) lo que es ahora. Voy a tratar de leer un libro que compré hace dos años. Una hora de lectura de un día y 4 horas de la escritura. Entonces me puedo sentar y descansar o dejar que mi mente vagar.

Hoy es uno de esos días me siento particularmente solitaria. Es increíble para mí el que la mayoría cree Soy saliente y cómodo con la gente, pero realmente no soy. Creo que se ha vuelto más la regla que la excepción, ya que he envejecido. Esta mañana me he sentado en el desayuno y comió en silencio y simplemente observa. Me pregunto si la mayoría de la gente es como el contenido, ya que parecen ser. No estoy convencido de que los que son. ¿Es tal vez yo soy simplemente egoísta, después de todo? ¿Es que sólo puedo imaginar que la gente en mi vida hasta que se acercan demasiado, lo que me asusta? Es que no estoy muy contento con donde estoy en mi vida de lo que pensaba? Sobre el papel aparezco éxito, pero estoy? Creo que se pone de nuevo a las cosas que he escrito en blogs anteriores: lo que hace feliz a alguien? Soy yo de nuevo a lo que mi estudiante señaló que la melancolía que visita regularmente en realidad nunca deja? . . .

It is shortly after lunch and I have spent the morning with Anna, the wonderful person with whom we worked last year. She was so helpful, as always. More to think about, but so many things I need to still get organIed. I should spend a week this summer to get everything squared away. If we are gong to do this, I need to get very serious. It has been a good day to get some things in perspective. Perspective, as well as perception,  is an (are)  amazing thing(s). Even walking around the resort. What are the stories of each person. From where all of the people come? What about the 15,000 people who work here every day to create this illusion of paradise? While I know I am very fortunate to be here? What about those who might really be part of the rich and famous? Are they happy and do they really see the world for what it is or do they have that entitled view of everything? I imagine some people look at me similarly. It was interesting to speak with someone today about their life and children and how they have worked so hard to help their children to make it to college and to hopefully have a life that will make them both happy and successful. One of the young ladies working in the breakfast and lunch buffet is 7 months pregnant, but she is here every day with a smile on her face. She is so pleasant, and like most every single person, accommodating, doing her part to make the dream happen for the 1,000s of people who come here to forget life for a few days or a few weeks. I have listened to stories of people who want more and who seem insufferably unhappy regardless what is done for them. It is the third time I have been here, but the first time I am alone. It is both enjoyable and lonely at the same time. I was asked again lately if I would ever get married again. I am not sure I see much benefit in that at my age. That is not to say that I do not believe in the institution of marriage (an interesting phrase when you think about it critically) nor would I discourage those who want to be married to do so. It seems I am sounding again like Kierkegaars, Bonhoeffer, or even Paul in some of his epistles. 

It is now Saturday afternoon. was so caught up in managing other items that I did not get to this posting. I did post one earlier and know that I still need to answer for my independence and not always wanting to share some of the health struggles I continue to have. I have certainly gotten better, but I do not share  to the degree many might wish. I have heard this from friends and colleagues alike. I remember the paper I wrote about that very thing. I spoke about the dysregulation between the privat and public self. A sort of dichotomous split between what l feel comfortable sharing and what I cannot bring myself to share at other times. It is an interesting tight rope. I still try to imagine what my life would have been without Crohn’s or what have seemed to be other complications. The fact that Crohn’s seems to have found somewhere else to focus makes me wonder what next? . . . I spent a good part of the afternoon working on a variety of issues. It is amazing that I am down to my last two full days here. It certainly passes by quickly. However, I did get so much done. Tomorrow it will be a travel company day. A great deal of work to do. I did get quite a bit arranged and it should be possible to get the last few pieces tied up into pretty reasonable packages. Tonight I went to a Dominican restaurant and had an enjoyable evening. The former is generally very good (and I say that as a sort of foodie-no comments to all of you rolling your eyes). The service is quite impecible and the options both in variety and ethnicity are quite astounding. Esta noche comido ceviche de mero fresca, pollo de lemón con habichuela y arroz blanco, una poquito plátano sueñe con caramelo, y majrete de maíz. 

Buenas lunas días. It is my last full day of my third journey to this amazing country. The resort is a respite like no other. Also for the third time I have found my way to the spa. For those who feel such a thing might jeopardize their man-card, put those thoughts away and rethink. This time I had a coffee bean exfoliation and massage. I am currently sitting in the tranquil garden watching and listening to a thunderstorm (amazing what happened to the weather in the hour and a half they I was in getting the treatment), now drinking a cup of coffee and feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I smell like I imagine Juan Valdez must have in those old commercials. Jerry Wemple, I know you have that reference down, you trivia guru. I got up early this morning and spent time at the beach. While it is warm, it is neither crazy busy nor too calor. Last night I went to the Welcome Party at the new Dome. It was quite amazing. I have video and picture though I have not been able to get the pictures to upload to Facebook yet. I tried to do too many and now it is stuck in a loop. Not sure what will happen if I will have to wait until I get back in the states tomorrow evening. Again, in spite of being alone on this trip, it has been quite amazing. I know Josè and Melissa will be astonished that I have met new people. I was invited two nights to sit with other people because I was alone. Last night at the party I met other new people and made some more contacts. It is always interesting to me. No one wanted to believe my age. It is not like I am at the age where I want to try to be older. Nothing to lie about in telling things as they are at this point. . . . 

I am dinner for the last evening and while I am on an outdoor patio of sorts, it is raining steadily and there is persistent lightning and thunder. It has cooled dramatically and is really quite pleasant. Tonight at dinner I saw one of the couples I met last night, and I spoke to a couple from Lancaster, who sat close to me and the couple immediately next to me, the young lady just graduated from West Chester. Just another normal day in my life. Dinner tonight was called Sinpky Gourmet VIP. It is a seafood restaurant and quite good. On a more frustrating note, they changed the password to the wifi and supposedly told us last Thursday. I did get it to connect to the phone earlier, but no luck at the moment, though the iPad connected. Dang!?! I am going to data roam for a moment, but then it will go off again. It has been a good week, but tomorrow back to the real life. 

Thanks for reading. 

Michael (this week)

How did we become so blissfully or willingly ignorant?

Hello from Starbucks in the Andruss Library,

I have spent the great majority of my week either here or at the Fog and Flame and grading. I have made good progress, but my mind needs a break from reading papers and trying to understand how some of my students seem to be listening in class, but when I get their work I am wondering if they are harder of hearing than I am at 60. I have made very good progress on the end of the semester onslaught, but there is still work to do. It is Friday and I had hoped to be done by about three hours from now. That is not going to happen. I have two classes complete, but waiting on one straggler in one class. I have a couple of things needed from a couple of students in my Rhetoric and Professional Writing class. If I had merely said you did not do it and “too bad,” some individual grades would be in serious jeopardy (and that is not a game). Before the day is out I do expect to have three of the four sections completed except for the minor things just noted. . . So it is about 10 days and graduation has passed and grades are done more work is been done in the yard, but the “to do list”never seems to stop. 😱 The amount of planting and landscaping in the yard was somewhat expensive again this spring; however, good progress has been made in the yard is looking quite manicured and professional. I think my father would be proud. The end of the semester and grades are always an interesting thing. I had a student or we can a half late ask to still turn things in; I had a complaint about a grade for failing a student, but it was an issue because it will keep the student from graduating. Some other minor questions, but for the most part no big problems.

As I work on this blog and must admit a failing. I was less than totally candid in a situation because I did not want to try to explain a ridiculous schedule and s’more more health issues. However by not doing so, I created another dilemma. It is more difficult than some might imagine to share the extent of, and by extension, the consequences of my Crohn’s Disease. In addition it seems the Crohn’s has started to create more problems. One issue, while to some extent expectable, intuitively I believe the other issue, which is more neurological, could also be a consequence of this insidious and painful, literally and figuratively, disease. Disease is to sickness, sort of like county prison is the county jail. One just sounds more tragic and painful. It is hard to believe I have actively fought this thing for over half of my life. I must admit I am working on two posts at the moment. I need to finish this one, which is really about school, education, our general willingness to think beyond the surface, or unwillingness as the case may be, and why, in my personal opinion (and I realize it is mine to be accountable for), why European students are so much better at challenging classes than many of their American counter-parts. Even when I was in seminary, we had German students and they walked circles around me in systematics and language classes. I was pretty decent in my language classes, but not as capable in systematics. I have since learned that I might have been better than I realized, but I certainly felt inadequate. I still remember the first time I was in Dr. Juel’s Galatians class and he wrote on my final paper, “it is my sincere hope that you learned more in this class than you have exhibited in this paper.” Ouch!! Unfortunately, he was correct. I had a lot yet to learn.one of the best things I have ever done was go and speak with him. I certainly do not want to bash public school teachers; I know some excellent ones. However, the push to pass standardized tests, which has precipitated this teaching to the test, is garbage. I realize this is the consequence of funding, parents, state and federal mandates and Lord knows what else, but the result is merely jumping through hoops to get them through. So it begs the question: what is required? I see in my own first year writing classes and beyond a typical student who depends on Google for their scholarly work. I see students who cannot integrate from one class to the next. Everything is compartmentalizations. How does that prepared one to think critically, analyze carefully, or synthesize wholistically? 

I remember the first thing one of the Polish professors told our students in the Winter term: I want you to think critically. This requires that students pay close attention and learn to take careful and thorough notes. It requires students to read outside of class and to review what they did in class. It means that school is, indeed, a full-time job. That too is complicated because too many students need to work more than one part time job, but then their studies suffer if they do not know how to be disciplined and prioritize their tasks. I am always astounded by students who believe merely sitting in a desk means they have done what is necessary, and necessary means I deserve an A. In the words of Sherman T. Potter, “Horse Hockey!” There is a show I still miss. It was a show that used humor and life to make us think. Another such show was Northern Exposure. While I find it unbelievably depressing that Janine Turner is a conservative talk show personality, Maggie was extraordinarily beautiful. And debating her about issues could be interesting. It is only in arguing (and I do not find spirited, but informed argument to be a problem, as long as it is respectful) that facts become known and mutual growth and benefit can occur. The eclectic group from Cicely, Alaska not only grew on the Jewish doctor exiled to them, they grew on anyone who watched the show. What was so amazing was the topics and issues that they took on long before people were going to think about them. The social issues that were at the core of the show caused anyone who watched and was willing to think a need for pause. I believe any show or movie worth the time it takes to watch it should do this. This is not to say there are not moments or shows that can be 90% entertainment. I enjoy mindless once in a while. However, when life becomes sound-bytes and most of our response it pathos- generated, not surpassingly (and etymologically apparent), we become societally pathetic.

All of this, for me, is depressing. For the first time in all of my time teaching, I failed a student in the final semester.  While my chair backed me when the student complained, it was made apparent that somewhere that might be a difficult one to get through.  Regardless that the failing grade was well justified, it was determined that somewhere I would probably lose the argument for this terminal decision. Indeed, the student would have to return in the fall. I knew when I assigned this earned grade that I would be probably facing some stiff resistance. My intuition was correct. Let me say a couple of things concerning the situation. As I have noted before I take no pride when someone fails my course. I have always felt that way. Even if it is apparent that the failing grade was more because of what the student did, or didn’t do, I am prompted to wonder what I might’ve done differently and thereby help the student pass my class.  I know the arguments of they did it to themselves; I know the arguments of a grade earned. And yet I want students to succeed. Particularly when a college education is so expensive. sometimes I’m not sure if it is a lack of maturity or lack of intellectual ability.  It is not always apparent witat, or who, the culprit is, and more than likely it is some of both. It is one thing to come to class; it is quite another thing to actually learn while you’re in that class. I am actually stunned at the amount of money spent on books never read and glasses never attended. And I do not believe this is merely naïveté nor simply idealism. I think it is a consequence of our believing that everyone needs to win. It is our desire to protect people growing up from the consequence of their choices. It is in requiring the school to do what used to be the parents’ job and then blaming the same school teachers for not doing theirs. I would write about this for hours, but suffice it to say, ignorance is not an innate human trait. It is allowed. It is perpetuated. It is something with which we have come to be accepting as reasonable. It is time to stop and it is time to once again value thinking, analyzing, and synthesizing.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

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

bucket list

Hello from my office,

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

Earlier this week was the 8th anniversary of my younger sister’s passing. I noticed that a few people I might have expected to note that day did not do so. Though I have heard since and noted comments that cause me pause. Families are such interesting organisms, and I use that word intentionally. Even since I began this posting this morning, I have received some other news, albeit it 7 weeks after it occurred, and yet that in and of itself speaks volumes. My last parent, either biological or adopted, has passed away. I was just informed that my birth mother passed away the 11th of March, and actually I was not told, I read about it when someone else in my extended family was told about it. Her response to the news was quite different. I met my mother on two separate occasions in my life (at least that I remember. I do not remember either of my biological parents as a small child). The first was when I was 23. I was in Texas on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with her and I also met what would have been my step-father at that time. Because it was the first time I had met her that I could remember, it was a bit strained for both of us. I remember asking a lot of questions, which was probably a bit unfair, and receiving few if any real answers. It was not a particularly helpful meeting. The second time I met her was when I was in my early 40s and we were living in the same town. When a half sister asked if she wanted to meet and have dinner, her answer was a rather curt, “No.” Even at 40 something, and though I basically had no relationship with her, this still hurt me. Perhaps because I was hoping she would want to know more about me. Perhaps because I still wanted her to be proud of whom I had become. That was not really what happened. Even though we did end up spending time together during the 6 months I was back in my birth state, there was not really a getting-to-know each other or move beyond the surface. I will say that the circumstance with my birth family was strained when I left, and that was mostly because of my own doing, but I made the decision to move on and a conscious decision to leave them behind. Not corresponding with them for the most part of 16 years has had it consequences. The last words my mother and I used to address each other through an email were certainly not kind or conducive to establishing any relationship.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and good luck in this week.

Dr. Martin