If I had Known . . .

Good morning from my office,

As a way to catch most up concerning the outcomes of appointments and tests, I think I will offer information here. Thank you, first of all, to all who have inquired about the continuing issues of managing the Crohn’s and its consequences. I have been to more doctors’ appointments (yes, the plural is accurate in both cases) and there are more doctors’ appointments yet on the horizon (again accuracy in the plurals a second time). The easiest way to explain everything that seems to be sort of crashing in upon me at the same time is this. First, the removal of a large intestine in 1986 and 30 plus years of not having the main water absorption organ in my body has caught up with me. Second, the removal of the J-Pouch, which was created after the colectomy, which was a significant portion of my ileum, a part of your small intestine, as a consequence of that surgery never really working, has created a different absorption problem, that being primarily B complex vitamins. Together, both the combination of these issues and their cumulative effect on my body (and that includes extensive parts of my body (e.g. organs, blood supply, nervous system . . . you get the picture)) had me in much more dire straits than I realized. Fortunately between my CPC, a phenomenal neurologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and some thoughtful nurses and PAs in December, I might have the best chance to be honestly healthy I have been since the beginning of all the surgeries over 30 years ago.

So what have they done, or are they doing? As of yesterday, I am getting B complex vitamin shots on a daily basis for two weeks. Then I will go to once a month for the rest of my life. My last blog gives some idea of why this is so important. Second, I have another test (MRI) of my mid small intestine coming next week to make sure that the Crohn’s is not currently active. Third, I am meeting with a GI nutritionist to see what is the best way for me to get some other vitamins and minerals into my under-absorbing body. I could go back to the U.P, steal copper and chew on it, but I am not sure that is a good plan. I am now taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D a month, Folic Acid, a statin, and aspirin daily to manage the other issues that have been deemed problematic because of this absorption, or lack thereof, issue. The shots are not difficult (I got one last night and another this morning). Taking pills is not one of my favorite things, but again, it is not that difficult. There are two issues to which I need to attend once again. I need to lose 30 pounds (and 40 would be better), and I need to get my blood pressure back down. It is once again up above where it should be. Some good news included the levels that point to kidney issues, which popped up in December for the first time, seem to be back to normal. The next, new, issue is a cardiac issue. It appears my heart is beating too slowly and that too seems related to the B complex vitamin issues, which is again related to surgeries because of the Crohn’s. It seems my body is adverse to absorbing most everything, which causes me to wonder how it is I need to lose weight. How can it be I have gained weight when I cannot absorb, but then again lack of energy and an increased amount of sleep might be the culprit. Seems a logical question, without a logical answer beyond what I have just offered. Yet that has often been the case with the somewhat  normal, and profoundly abnormal, way I have been required to manage my modified digestive system. As I noted in my last post, there has been little that seems I can do to change what my body will or will not do. I should probably be astounded that I have made it as far as I have.

What I sometimes wonder is what if they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s in elementary school, when they believe I probably contracted, though I am not sure one contracts it; of course, there is the doctor who told me I was probably born with it. In some ways I would be more comfortable with that as my reality. If one has it from birth, it just is. One can still question the why, but as I have learned, there is still much that is not known about Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) and their causes. Immune issues seem to come up the most often. Of course, there is a question about what treatments might have been available to me (or more accurately for me because it would have been my parents’ job to help me manage something). I do wonder, again as I have noted, what it would be like if they had been able to keep my body intact. That seems to be the most significant or problematic topic or puzzle (we’re  back to that) currently. Yesterday, I had three doctors call and it was actually very satisfying to tell the neurologist that his appointment time and conversation with me might have been the best two hours I had ever spent in front of a medical professional. The care, detail, and willingness to answer and explain was like nothing I had ever experienced. For the first time in over thirty years, I believe I have a clear sense of how all the parts of the body interact and why the surgeries that I have endured were not the end of the story. Logically, I knew that, but I am not sure I have ever really considered what might happen. “It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know” (Martin 2011). When I wrote these words I was still coming to terms with my personal struggle. I also wrote, “So what is my identity? Who am I? I am a [61] year old male who was born prematurely and that early arrival had consequences; it might have more of which I am not even aware of at this point” (Martin 2011). This is surely the case as I spent almost 20 minutes placing doctors, nurses, and other specialist appointments into my calendar last night. It is surely the case when the majority of phone calls received today were from scheduling people at Geisinger (I think I had 5 calls today). The consequences are currently daily trips to the doctor’s office for injections, taking more medications, and wondering how to manage an HSA that seems to ask for more documentation that ever, all under the guise of blaming the IRS. When I was working on my comprehensive exams, one of the books I read was an astounding book by Arthur Frank, titled The Wounded Storyteller. There are moments I feel that is what my blog has become as of recently. I am able to accept the reality that I am affected and wounded by the fact that I am missing more intestine than I have left. “It is in that wounding I am reminded that I am still capable, or more accurately that I can still fight this with all my might. It is in suffering that I know that I am present
. . .  I am a person with an insidious and chronic disease. It is fighting to control me,  but differently from times earlier in my life, where I let it control me, now I refuse. It is taking more time than I wish, but for the moment I will give it its due, but I am coming back. I believe through these injections and managing motility, I will once again beat it back.

I am pretty sure that it is best that I did not know where all of this would lead because I am not sure I was strong enough earlier in my life to stand strong. As I noted once again in that paper, the role of telling all of this is a sort of testimony and the role of being able to tell a story, particularly a story of illness does allow  one to suffer, not in loneliness, but in a pedagogical way, a teaching way. Perhaps that is not surprising because I am both a storyteller (ask my students) and I am a teacher, but not a memorization person. I am one that pushes people to analyze and think about their situation. I am a firm believer we are all teachers in our own way, just like ministry can occur in many places outside the Sunday sanctuary. When we use a negative experience pedagogically, we are not allowed to wallow in sadness, but we are managing reality forthrightly and honestly. The narrative, the story, changes. This narrative as noted by another author on the chaos of illness speaks about a narrative of restitution. Restitution is paying back for what which has happened. Certainly, the trail of what has happened between my partner-in-life, Crohn’s and me is long. It has been an epic battle and the battling continues. Earlier in my life, the narrative was of embarrassment and rejection. I refuse to allow such a narrative to take hold of me ever again. It is ironic that I continue to address my personal, and intensively private, intestines in such a public place, but again, it is what I teach. How do we use computer mediated communication or our own social identity to come to terms with our personage? It is through this writing that I begin once again to make sense of what is a chaotic body-self dualism. The first time I struggled with the consequences of surgery in a most public way, someone who should have been supportive was incapable of doing so. I did not understand. In my frailty, I could not understand their reaction. What felt like rejection when I needed acceptance perhaps more than ever before was profoundly injurious, but that injury was not as readily apparent as my altered self. However, before I am too hard on the other, it is important for me to realize I could not accept myself at that point. Part of that was how weakened I was from fighting Crohn’s when it was decimating my body. At this point, it is not the Crohn’s, but the consequences of it. While some might not see a difference, I do. If both were problems at the present time, I think this would be exponentially more difficult.

So if I knew what 30+ years would have offered would it have been easier? No way . . . I can say with even more certainty that I do not believe I would have been strong enough to endure it, knowing it ahead of time. What I know even now in the throes of more issues that I still believe this is manageable. This is another battle . . . it is a war, and at some point, I even know I will lose, but I am okay with that. I am just not ready to lose yet. In fact, I am still making plans and putting plans into motion that will affect the next three or four years. In other words, I do not plan to allow these latest struggles to derail the desideratum I am working hard to create. There is much more I could write, but I think it is time to get to the work that is insistently calling for my attention. I would like to give a shout out of thanks to my friend for listening to so much of this story and much more this past week. You have inspired me to hang in there and keep trucking along. Generally, I am able to do this pretty well on my own, but it has been nice to share and for the gift of your insight. I offer this song on your behalf. Well back to Hobbit-land! 🙂

To the rest of you, thank you as always for reading.

Michael

 

 

 

 

Understanding the Puzzle (aka: My Body

Hello from my study,

Somehow when I deleted what I thought was a draft (it said local on it) of the last blog I posted before bed last night, it seems I deleted what I had actually written, so here we go again. I will still post it as a St. Patrick’s Day post, but it is a bit after honestly. This past week was Spring Break, though it had a more oxymoronic flavor to it, or a Houghton/Hancock appearance to it. This past Tuesday we received the most snow they have had in Bloomsburg during a single snowfall in decades. On the patio between my house and my barn/garage, I measured about 26 inches of snow and it was still snowing for a few more hours. I am not sure of the final total, but I think 28 inches is pretty accurate, at least in my yard. I am looking out now and it is snowing steadily again, just in time for students to think about driving back from wherever they spent their breaks. My Spring Break this year was substantively different that last year’s break, which was spent in Ireland. Howver, I knew that going in because of the medical incident that occurred in December. Yet, I would like to offer somewhat of a shout out to those I met in Ireland last March.What a wonderful 5 days that was. The food was phenomenal (and those of you who know me, know I can be coerced by amazing culinary items anytime.). The people are genuinely wonderful and accommodating. Finally, the greens in Ireland are certainly unrivaled by most any place I have ever visited. Siting in a bar the last night working on a paper about the rhetoric of place, drinking a pint of Murphy’s, and meeting two college students from my hometown of Sioux City was quite the irony, but it made the trip all that more special. So the picture above is of an Aer Lingus plane, the national airline of Ireland.

Back in December, as many know, I went into Urgent Care one morning after a week-long virus, but with some chest pains. What ended up happening that day was an Acute Kidney Incident (AKI) as it is categorized, when my kidneys decided they wanted a break. What I did not know, but perhaps should have surmised because of a doctor’s question (if your heart stops can we resuscitate?) was I also was suffering a cardiac issue. What I found out is my heart rate was under 50, which is something called bradycardia or bradyarrymthia. It seems that some of the reason for that, in my case, is probably again Crohn’s related. Because of some complexities in my altered GI track, there are likely conditions that can slow electrical impulses through the heart. When I was in the hospital that day it was probably an issue of both electrolytes and too much potassium in my system. In addition, it seems after a two-hour neurology appointment on this past Wednesday, that somehow the Crohn’s, and consistent subsequent removal of more and more of my gastrointestinal track, continues to have consequences. The area of the ileum that absorbs B complex vitamins, something I no longer possess, has created a malabsorption of said vitamins to be low to the point of being a serious problem, thereby vexing my remodeled insides in a notably  malevolent manner. Some of the consequences of bradycardia could cause me to:

  • Feel dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feel short of breath and find it harder to exercise
  • Feel tired.
  • Have chest pain or a feeling that your heart is pounding or fluttering (palpitations).
  • Feel confused or have trouble concentrating.
  • Faint, if a slow heart rate causes a drop in blood pressure

While I have had all of these things and more often than I realized, none of them seemed so severe to cause alarm. Together, however, when I see them in a list, I am a bit more concerned. Fortunately, a neurologist, who during residency had significant experience in gastroenterology seemed to peg my unique body pretty accurately. What has happened as a result of this appointment is a follow-up with a cardiologist. It seems they might do a thirty day monitoring of my heart and they noted something called a recording loop might be implanted to do actual recordings of heart activity when some issue is taking place. All of that will be done within the next month. In fact I need to return a call on Monday to see when I will have an appointment.

On Thursday it was back to the gastro doctors and a traipsing through that tube we call the digestive system. One of the most important things I have learned is this tube is much more complex than merely something with an opening on each end. When I wrote a paper with two colleagues about managing my IBD issues, I noted that we do not talk about our digestion or elimination of waste because it is too personal and embarrassing, but for the last 30+ years I have had to consider this on a daily basis. Once more, I was told by yet another doctor that I probably have had Crohn’s my entire life, or certainly since I was a child (like during elementary school). After both an endoscopy and ileoscopy, what we expected to find in my remaining small intestine and upper GI areas was exactly what we found: no active Crohn’s. That is a blessing on one level because it is one less thing to manage, at least in terms of additional medication. What is much more evident, however, is that this disease continues to do what I accused it of in that same paper some years ago. I asked, “What happens when there is no recovery from a disease? What happens when this disease [seems] to steal me from myself? How do I get myself back” (Martin 2010)? While I am not adverse to  the tests for Crohn’s any longer, as they have become commonplace, I do have some issues with the disease itself. As I was reminded, we still have little idea how or why someone is afflicted. We know it affects the immune system and I have struggled in a profound way with a compromised immune system. The issue of hydration and absorption of B complex vitamins seems to be the current over-riding concern at this point. I guess the vitamin is called complex because it is. It affects the heart, the nerves, the brain, and the list could go on. Here is a quick list I found searching the web.

  • B1 and B2 are important for healthy functioning of the muscles, nerves, and heart. B1 helps the body make new cells and B2 is important for red blood cell production and fighting free radicals
  • B3 helps regulate the nervous and digestive systems and helps convert food into energy
  • B5 breaks down fats and carbohydrates for energy and is responsible for the production of hormones. B5 and B12 are required for normal growth and development
  • B6 supports the immune system, helps the body produce hormones, and aids the body in breaking down protein
  • B7 is involved in the production of hormones
  • B9 helps cells make and maintain DNA and promotes the growth of red blood cells
  • B12 helps regulate the nervous system and plays a role in red blood cell formation
  • B6, B9, and B12 help to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine (an amino acid thought to contribute to heart disease when it occurs at elevated levels) (B Complex Vitamins)

Not sure I hoped to be a medical or vitamin handbook here, but the complexity of this one group of vitamins is staggering, both literally and figuratively. It seems there are two consequences that I will have to manage. Hydration, which is a constant problem, is going to be treated by taking of medication to slow down motility. Second, it seems I might be looking at B Complex Vitamin shots. This has always been on the table, but I did not realize that I was in such dire straits concerning all of this. Many of the symptoms I have been dealing with I wrote off to being 60-something. It seems that there is more going on.

Yesterday I also made it to the chiropractor again. The muscle tightness in my lower back and my butt (and I do mean serious maximus) as well as my neck and shoulders was palpable in many and various ways. So for me, Spring Break has been a week of introspection and working to understand how my altered body, one with which I have had a sort of love/hate relationship for 30+ years, is still amazing and resilient. I have been called superman more than once, but I do not feel all that super or amazing. It is what I have to work with. It is not something that I might have predicted, and certainly not something I would wish on anyone else. I remember being told I was a wimp once upon a time. My response in that instance was along the lines of I do not know what it is like to be on your side, and I am sorry for that, but I would not wish my side on anyone. I still feel that way. What amazes me in the past week, though I intuitively knew already, was how every little thing in the body affects and is related to something else. When I was a senior in college, I took and A&P class as med students call it for something to do. I might have been one of my smartest decision ever because I learned more valuable information in that class than perhaps any I have taken. It worked, not only when I was a pastor, but also now for myself. Some have asked why I am not more upset or why I do not seem to feel sorry for myself. There are moments, I promise you, but what being chronically affected by something has taught me is there are always challenges. Sometimes, to use the metaphor of the puzzle, it seems I am trying to put the puzzle together, except all the pieces are turned over or upside-down. I see only the shape, but they are all cardboard grey or brown. What the appointments this past week have done is to turn the pieces over . . . to give me a clearer glimpse of what the puzzle’s entire picture might be. It is never easy when your life is controlled by something you wish you did not have, but I do not feel badly because of the hand I have been dealt. I have a wonderful life. I am better than most because I have a job and insurance (which might be even more amazing considering the news this past week, but I will not go there more than I have by this comment already). I am fortunate because this week, once again, I have been afforded outstanding care by exceptionally intelligent people. I have had colleagues reach out and provide rides and neighbors ask if I was okay. There is so much we take for granted, and even in my compromised state, I am no different. What I do know is that many of the things I am dealing with on a daily basis are more serious than I might have anticipated. Perhaps that is because I have struggled for so long, but I do not see it as a struggle. Everyday we are offered a chance to get up and work at it again. I have a wonderful job and superb colleagues. I get to go in and do something I enjoy everyday. I know that puts me in the minority.
Last year I was reflecting on my Irish heritage and as I was writing this initially yesterday, it was time to do so again, but I do it more often than just the 17th of March, the day we specifically note those from the Emerald Isle. Our heritage is something more than place, it is identity. It is what connects us with our past, but hopefully points us to a future that could be better than from where we have come. It is interesting to me how place comes back into my psyche so often. Is that because I was adopted or something more? I am going to close with the same video I put in the first time. Before I close, however, I wanted to note how astonished I am by people and how our lives seem to work. Recently a person has re-entered my life, most unexpectedly, but also most wonderfully. How do you catch up on decades when the baggage is great and lives imagined are certainly not what occurred? It is fun to share with no expectations and with st least some sense of common history, albeit long ago and far away. Thank you for returning.

 

I am blessed and I hope you find reading this somehow both informative and a blessing. In my most native of languages, at least from what I can figure out, Sláinte!

Thank you as always for reading and Happy St. Patricks Day

Michael

Spring Break and Beyond 

Hello from the house,

I am just getting home at around 7:00, having left before 8:00 this morning. The last two days I have been in conference mode, grading mode, and wrapping-things-into- a-neat-package mode. I have one class left to get some substantive work completed on yet this evening. If I get everything done I want by tomorrow afternoon, I will actually walk into break with everything completed in terms of classwork. I am not sure how I accomplished that, but it is a great feeling. It is hard to figure out where half the semester has gone. I think the fourth week felt like the second and now the end of the seventh feels like the fourth or maybe the fifth. A year ago I was actually sitting in a Starbucks most days working away, so that is not really much different from this week, but there was a difference in location. A year ago I was sitting on Parnell Place, City Centre, Cork, Ireland. Starbucks in Ireland seemed to be a bit more enjoyable, nothing against the hard workers in the Andruss Library, but the atmosphere and brogue of the friendly people of Cork made for wonderful days. Of course, the step dancing and music, which were common evening fair, did not go unnoticed.

The past week and a half, I have worked harder than I have for a year or more attempting to get my life into some semblance of order. I have also been doing that with my health, as noted in the last couple blogs. It is interesting how the days seem to march on so quickly. While I can see things getting accomplished, the cumulative weeks/months/years certainly add up more significantly, and while I know the individual days are full of accomplishments, they seem minuscule compared to the amassed years that have passed me by. And that is not to say in any way shape or form that I have been sitting on the sidelines watching. Those who know me, know that is not my way. Where I do seem to see things happening, and somewhat shockingly so, is when I have posted things on Facebook. One of my undergraduate colleagues seems to be a “trump-etting” cheerleader. This is not a complete shock to me as the Nebraskan he is. Another one is a former student, and being from where he is from in Pennsylvania, again no big shocker. Yet in both cases, the somewhat half-trigger, momentary response to what I have posted is shocking, and even a bit mystifying; mostly because I see both of them as capable and intelligent people. Today, in particular, it was evident that one did not read carefully what I had written. I questioned some of what has been happening, but no where did I accuse some of the things that have been regularly argued in the various media outlets, from across the spectrum. I even asked one to call and let’s chat, but no call has been received up to this point. While I am certainly not happy with a number of things that seem to happen on almost a daily basis, there is a need for both sides of the political our red/blue chromatic to find the purple hue that demonstrates compromise.

Whether it be the newest attempt to manage our health care, issues of education, our climate, our international policy. It is time to find common ground. I mean this seriously. For the better part of 20 years, Congress has refused to work in good faith with the President, and that trend is certainly not improving. To be fair the last three Presidents are certainly at different places on the continuum, both in terms of policy and personality. My point is that it cannot just be the President. Much of Congress has remained the same. Seventy-nine individuals have served in Congress over 20 years. If you think about the influence they wield over policy in this country, we should be concerned. It could, and perhaps should, be argued they have become a ruling elite, precisely about what the founders of this country were concerned. Some of Congress has become its own self-serving monarchy, but without the crown. Most run in districts where there can be little opposition and the money involved in keeping them in their places has more zeros in it that we would care to know. The most recent Presidential election spent almost 1.9 billion dollars and that does not include all the down ticket elections. That is (and pardon this, but . . . ) fucking outrageous. This is beyond my comprehension. To put it another way, about 50,000 students could have their tuition paid for four year as an instate student to a state institution . . . and that is just the cost of the presidential election.  When considering a similar struggle with a more local situation, I have been stunned by the figures I have seemed to discover about the Bloomsburg Community Government Association (CGA). I have been trying to speak with them for literally years with no response, but after some of their (what I will term as) dissing behavior, I started to ask questions. However, even the money I can trace to CGA, and they have a lot of money hidden (I know because I filed a RTK on them. From what I received it appears they are hiding behind their law firm and refuse to speak with me), they could certainly pay 1/10 of the money I am aware of and keep tuition and fees down for a year or two. Yet we could not even get them to give 2,400.00 to help 40 students with their health insurance for a study abroad program. What makes this so egregious is that some who refused this (or seemed unwilling to consider this option) used that very health insurance themselves. This angers me beyond words. Students are beginning to ask questions, however, and that is good. They also voted against imposing a fee on current students for a new building that would not even come to fruition until 2024. Imagine that?

What I am realizing is that I am very unhappy when people (or groups) seem to use their money and power for selfish things or in what seems to be a self-serving manner. Moving to another level, our university system pleads poverty, but until recently, did little to encourage the State Legislature to increase funding to higher education in any significant way. Current funding for higher education in this state is at the same level it was in 1999. I hear the sounds of Prince in the background, but unfortunately, unless there is some significant change, higher education in this state will be like Prince, and even more tragically: dead. When I came to Pennsylvania eight years ago, there were a couple of motivating factors. First, there was a former administrator in my previous institution and to put it kindly, we had a certain level of disdain for each other. Second, there was a new governor coming into office in Wisconsin. Nothing more need be said about this. Third, Pennsylvania, and certainly the PASSHE seemed to be consciously invested in the welfare of the Commonwealth. In the last years, in fact, in the years since I came, Pennsylvania has cut its funding to higher education by almost 36%. Without a strong faculty union standing up for students, colleagues, and staff, only God knows how much worse it would be. What continues to amaze me is that educators, faculty, and faculty unions continue to be vilified by many in the state legislature. Not surprising when the most recent figures I can find show that only 130 out of 253 legislators have a four year degree. Yes, barely half of the people who decide the funding for our state colleges went to college. Frightening is the only term that comes to mind. Of course, much like the current Secretary of Education, our previous governor had little use or anything positive to say about higher education. What was much more mystifying is that after asking for a 54% cut to higher ed, which was worse than what Governor Walker was doing in Wisconsin, , and getting 18%, he flatlined the budget for the remaining three years, to the tune of about 90,000,000.00 (yes, the zeros are correct) in cuts during his administration. Then when he ran for election in 2014, he touted himself as a friend of education. Stunning, delusional, or maybe just profoundly stupid. He was the only Republican incumbent to lose his bid for reelection. At least Pennsylvanians saw the writing on the wall at that point. There is still the issue of a current Chancellor who seems determined to ransack our system. It is an interesting time to be in higher ed; it is an interesting time to be in Pennsylvania; it is a frightening time to be an American (or embarrassing), and I do not say these things with any sense of anger or malice, but with an honest sense of dread.

I feel like I have been on one rant after another as of late, but what I am sure of is staying quiet, or being willing to merely swallow what is thrown has gotten us into a serious mess. Staying quiet has created a situation where I believe any sense of decorum has been trampled or somehow called liberalism. I am certainly willing to speak with (and note I said “with” and not “to”) the other with the person who somehow believes that my more liberal social bent automatically translates into a fiscal liberalism. I am more fiscally conservative than some might believe. I do, however, believe that if someone is willing to put in the work, to do their part in helping to improve their lot, then an opportunity to do so is not unreasonable. I do not believe in getting something for nothing.  I am struggling with the daily innuendo, the bombastic conversation, the lobbing of 140-character grenades that seem based on another early morning’s indigestion and paranoia. I do not know how else to frame it. It makes me sad beyond words because the time I spent in the Marine Corps meant something to me. I am proud of that service and that I grew up as a Midwestern kid. I am proud of the fact that my parents struggled and worked hard, with many bumps along the way, to provide a decent home (and if you have read this blog for a while, you know those struggles for them and me). I am proud of the fact that my father worked until he was almost 70 before retiring. Ultimately, I believe we will survive this current trial that seems to create a daily potential crisis, or, at least, I surely hope so. There is much more that is rolling around between my ears, but there is much I need to focus on before the morning, so it is time to finish the rant . . . perhaps some music will once again leave you all with something a bit more comforting. Certainly, we are never sure why we are given trials; we are never sure what we have done to deserve the good we receive; we are never quite sure that we make any profound difference, but perhaps what I do know is in spite of my concerns for myself, my university, my state, my country or my world, I simply believe that I have been blessed in many more ways than not. So I offer this:

Thank you as always for reading and to my students, I hope you have a good break.

Dr. Martin

Wondering Why

Hello from my room,

It has been a bit of a hectic week, but that does not seem to be anything unusual. I often wonder how my colleagues balance life, work, family, and anything else that could pop up. It seems like I’m never quite as far ahead of the game as I would like to be. There are times now that I just want to blame it on being old, on a 30 year struggle with my health, or some other justification, but I’m not quite sure what it is. In a conversation this past week, I was told perhaps I spent too much time on certain things and that I needed to learn how to be able to step back. That was a fair assessment. But what I know is if I spent less time, I would feel guilty, or like I didn’t really work hard enough at my job. I can already imagine some of you shaking your collective heads, but I am being entirely serious. I’m not  sure from where that comes, but most certainly it is at least in part because I’ve never felt good enough, smart enough, or successful enough. Of course, the logical question is according to whom? Or according to what standard? And I’m not sure I have an answer for that either. A short while ago I was talking to someone on the phone and we were discussing the consequences of having a chronic illnesses. For the first time, and in some concrete manner, I realized that I’ve been missing significant parts of my body for about half of my life. That realization helped me understand the struggles that I am currently going through. The stark and indisputable reality that for three decades I have functioned without either most or all of my colon came as a shock when I spoke those words on the phone this evening . . . it sometimes amazes me how quickly the days seems to fly by and the list of things intended seems to generally have more additions than subtractions. I am sitting in the Fog and Flame again moving from grading to writing to reading to commenting to pondering the grading, commenting and reflecting on my own teaching, which is something I do almost daily. It seems I need to somehow get students to listen more carefully or intentionally to things noted in class. I did take the time to go back to the what I had noted about the documents, and while it seems clear to me that admonished them to consider what was there and what was not, perhaps it was not as clear as I thought. What comes to mind for me then is how much do we have to help a student and how much of it takes effort on their part? I also realize this is not a blanket remedy or one-shoe-fits-everyone. What I am aware of more than I wish I was is there is a lot more hand-holding than we should have to do.

The amount of time I spend trying to assist students in understanding (but also thinking) is no small investment. One of my colleagues noted that my BOLT course layouts are text books in and of themselves. I work diligently most weekends reflecting on the classes and what is happening to provide the most thoughtful and current responses to what is happening in each specific class. One of the things it is easy for us to forget, without specifically thinking about it, is how much so many students have on their own plates. Many work one or more jobs as well as try to manage school demands. I was speaking with a former student last night and she was lamenting how hard she works now to make ends meet, and has a reasonable first job, as does her apartment-mate, and yet they can barely make it and have little to no money left at the end of the month. I responded to her, “Welcome to the working poor.” She has food on the table and she can pay her bills, but if anything goes wrong there is no cushion for the unexpected. It is disheartening to her, particularly because she did work hard as a student. There were moments, and certainly her last semester she had checked out more than perhaps she should have, but she is a normal human. There is that simple question of wondering why? What was it that made working so hard worth it? She does realize that without that degree she would be struggling even more. It is a frustrating reality. It is the reality that certain majors do not have the same starting salary, and yet her degree cost the same. It is a difficult reality because this piece of paper carries no promises. That is the painful reality of a Bachelor’s degree in our over-educated, but still lacking-appropraite-educated world.

What I do believe more than I have perhaps admitted or realized is today’s world is more difficult, and it is undoubtedly more complicated. It is our job as faculty to explain that or help them realize that? To some degree, perhaps. It seems that it is more something that needs to come from their families, immediate and extended, but what happens when their family struggles themselves? Then what? I wonder if my “job” or my responsibility changes. Personally, I believe it does. So many of our students have less support than they need; often they do not have enough food, something that I learned not long ago. Some do not even have the things they need to even manage daily hygiene. Yes, these things are actually true. I do remember being broke as a college student. I remember once selling my guitar and an amp so I could buy necessities, but at least I had something to sell. It is amazing how perspective matters; context influences what how we imagine our possibilities.

This past week or two I had the opportunity to speak with my first host family from my traveling year. I also had the opportunity to speak with my mentor and dear friend, Dan. His continued grace and courage give me more hope that he will ever realize. The way he has managed his journey is something that will speak to me for the remainder of my days. This past week, a trip to the ophthalmologist revealed more issues for me. Nothing earth-shattering, but it is always interesting when they have a second doctor come in to check out what they have found. It is a bit disconcerting. During the next week, there will be more specialists and “there will be no place that they do not examine” (with apologies to Arlo Guthrie). It might be safer on the Group W bench. This past week I also reconnected a bit with another person from earlier in my life. It was a bit of a shock, but simultaneously a wonderful gift. It has been 40 years since we really spoke in a way that was appreciative . . . and my appreciation at this point is somewhat beyond my comprehension, at least at this moment. It caused me to reflect on my growing up on the Westside of Sioux City in that little area called Riverside. We were seen by many in our larger town as the lower-middle class, as those who were somewhat hicks, as those who were nicknamed River Rats. What I know is the group of students, people, individuals, who went to that junior/senior high school were a tight knit group of students who had a great deal of pride, but also a work ethic and a group of teachers that were second to none. We were called Cavaliers long before there was a Lebron James. By the time the person to whom I am referring was in Riverside, we were going to West High School. It was interesting how the three new schools changed the view of students in that Northwestern Iowa town. I remember that 71 Chevelle I had and how my father once noted (and he was not the only person to lament this) he was not sure if the mufflers (my headers and glass packs) or the stereo was more difficult for him to tolerate. That 454 engine would pass anything but a gas station.

As we move toward Spring Break, the six weeks as far as school have been a blur, but the same six weeks as a country have been insufferable. The level of craziness that seems to be the norm rather than the exception has me embarrassed, and I do not say that with malice toward either an administration or those who voted for this __________ . . . I do not have a reasonable term or adjective with which I can even describe the individual who has the title President. When I say I am embarrassed, I mean that from the depth of my being. I cannot even anticipate what the latest tweet will do to turn the country into yet another “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, except it is not merely a moment, it is a daily disaster. I am wondering if anyone who voted for our current Chief Executive is having second thoughts? I am sure some in the world are wondering why. A year ago I was in Cork, Ireland and I remember the proprietor of my BnB asking me in his Irish brogue, “What the fuck are you guys thinkin’?” I would love to hear him know, or NOT. Well. . . in the meanwhile I will continue to wonder . . . what indeed?? I need to get back to my work and grading. If I have a productive week, I can have things completed before all my specialist appointments to try to figure out how to manage what I noted in my last blog. To Dan and to Lee and Judy, thank you for the blessing you continue to be in my life. To Oregon, I hope you are getting some sleep in the midst of all the new life around you. Thank you for reaching out and your words. You too have blessed me tremendously. As a postscript of sorts, I was just notified that this is my 200th blog posting on the site. Amazing that there is that much rolling around in my head.  I guess I will offer this video in light of that.

 

 

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Planning for an Uncertain Future

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Hello on another Sunday morning from the Fog and Flame,

Technically, it is a few minutes after noon, but I have been here for a couple of hours working on things to prepare for the coming week and my classes; it seems to be my weekly pattern (including listening to Pandora – I know some say I should switch to Spotify, but I am a creature of habit – and I am listening to various Broadway show soundtracks). Amazing how much I have learned about Broadway since coming to Bloomsburg. I am fortunate to have worked with the BU Business LLC for that last 6 years; it has exposed me to many things I did not know. Continuing with the idea of where have four decades gone, growing up, this was the day we had a vacation from school because it was Lincoln’s birthday. It was also my Great-aunt Martha Hannestad’s birthday. She was born in Norway and immigrated to this country as a young girl. She was born in 1877. She turned 100 the day my elder brother was buried, and I remember her saying she should have been the one to be leaving the world instead of a 26 year old father of three. What I know looking back at this time was it was my first real “adult” lesson in realizing or accepting an uncertain future. I did not realize that at the time. As noted in my previous post, I was merely overwhelmed and angry at God.

What I know now, and I am well aware of this simple reality for all of us, I was born with an uncertain future. Undoubtedly, we all have an element of this, but being born weighing 17 ounces and only 26 weeks of gestation in the mid 1950s created another level to this human unpredictability. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery in 2004, the surgeon noted that I had probably been born with Crohn’s Disease rather than having developed it later in life. This was because of symptoms that I had a propensity for as a child. At the time, and I remember some of these painful incidences well, I merely lived through them not realizing (nor did my parents) there was something much more sinister amiss. I am trying to remember a time in my life when I was asymptomatic for Crohn’s and perhaps in my early 20s and when I was first at Dana. Now, however, since fighting this disease in conscious way (circa 1984), I do not really remember having a “normal life” in terms of my health. Some of you who know me in more completely personal manner are probably smiling and questioning any normalcy in my life. Fair enough. For some time the larger question for me has been simple enough. What are the consequences of this abnormal birth weight or gestation? What are the long-term consequences of nine abdominal surgeries and the removal of significant portions of an intestinal tract? Too often (myself included), we see this digestive tract as simply a tube that takes in food, processes it, and expels what is unneeded. It is so much more complex. It is a fundamental part of our immune system.  The surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be about 32 square meters, or about half a badminton court. With such a large exposure (more than three times larger than the exposed area of our skin), these immune components function to prevent pathogens from entering the blood and lymph circulatory systems.  Fundamental components of this protection are provided by the intestinal mucosal barrier, which is composed of physical, biochemical, and immune elements elaborated by the intestinal mucosa. Microorganisms also are kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut-associated-lymphoid tissue (GALT) (I owe this previous couple sentences to Wikipedia). After doing more reading, it is not surprising to me, I seem to susceptible to every damn germ that comes my way. This now partial digestive system is fighting the best it can, but between its precarious beginning and what has happened since, I am pretty blessed to do as well as I have. Things were uncertain from the outset, much more parlous than I ever knew. What is much more staggering to realize is how resilient the body is and how my particular body has managed in spite of this malady than I could have ever imagined. While it seems that most of us understand the importance of hydration, what happens when your body does not know how to manage hydration because the main component in hydration no longer exists? The conversation with the gastroenterologist this past week was telling. No real surprises, but facing the reality of the consequences means coming to terms with that uncertain reality once again. Most of the time, I do not focus upon it, but some of the long-term reality and its affects on my daily life have made that more difficult.

What I know most importantly is I have been blessed to live the life I have. I have been so fortunate to meet tremendously talented and good people. I have been able to learn so much about the world in which we live. I have been able to sit at the feet of amazing professors from undergraduate school through a doctoral degree. I have been blessed by phenomenal students in my classes. I have been favored by the presence of terrifically caring people (thinking of so many wonderful people at Comforts of Home); I have been able to travel and meet exceptional people from California to New York, from Texas to the Canadian border. From 1980 to now, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe, including East Germany in 1985, more times than I might have ever imagined. Those journeys have always changed my life, from language acquisition to an appreciation for this world in which we live. From food to simple customs, each time there has been a transmogrification from a sheltered NW Iowa boy I once was to someone who has learned things beyond my wildest imagination. As I have noted in many of my earlier posts, the upbringing I had in Sioux City was a typical childhood for someone in the 1960s. We thought life was about playing in the yard, riding our bicycles, coming home when the streetlights came on, going to school and church daily and weekly. And so it was. In spite of things I have written in the past, I was fortunate to grow up in the world I did. I see that as I ponder a world today where so many people in this country are unsure of today, let alone a future. It hurts me as that white person that the country I call home seems so afraid of those who do not look like me or believe in the same God as I do. This is not the world or country in which I believed I was raised. There have been times during the past couple years where I am afraid to read the news, fearing what the newest craziness might be lurking on the daily headlines, but I do not think I am alone in this concern. While it would certainly be easy to point fingers in the current atmosphere, I do not want to do so. As most unmistakably know, I have a certain political bent,  but it is more complex than many might realize. My niece, whom I adore, stated it quite well today. She voted in the past election because she is not a conservative Republican and note, I leave that to interpretation. Fiscally I am more conservative than many might think, and while I am more socially liberal than my fiscal-nature, I might not be as liberal as everyone might assume by my academic profession. What does that mean? It is another example of how I have never been able to be easily compartmentalized. It is because I ponder and try to think beyond the obvious. I do fall into the easily categorized at moments, but that is generally when I am overly frustrated and write or speak before I think as carefully as I should. Sucks to be human at moments.

The next weeks will hopefully allow me some more certainly. While I thought I had every imaginable test done to my altered GI tract, there is the possibility of a new one, encapsulated cartography. What is this you ask? It is actually swallowing a camera and allowing it to take pictures (or is it movies) of my entire (or partial) gastroenterological system. I am not sure this will happen because it is dependent of the endoscopy and ileoscopy that is scheduled soon. I read an article in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology titled “Crohns (sic) Cartography: Mapping Disease Patterns and Trajectories Using the Lémann Index; Are We Finding our Way?” If you are so inclined you are welcome to read it. If you find it a bit much, it is using a camera to see what sort of patterns they might discover after my three-plus fight with Crohn’s  after examining my insides. It seems like science fiction on one level, but it is actual medical care in this 21st century. That is the thing. If I had been like this even a few decades earlier, most likely I would not be composing a blog in my 60s. The intestinal issues are both at the crux of my concern, but on another level, the easiest to manage. I have been managing the consequences of Crohn’s as an intestinal companion for over 30 years. It is the next level of symptoms that seem to be more problematic (as well as increasing the morbidity). Up to now dehydration has been a inconvenience, but now it has added to the uncertainty that has been another companion. Ostomy moments are one thing to manage. Headaches that create a lack of hearing, an absence of sight, and a complete lost of equilibrium are an entirely different issue, and both a figurative and literal severe pain. Hearing that the consequence of this dehydration are now apparent in my brain matter serves as yet another disconcerting consequence. One of the things I have been able to do, at least until now, is merely live with the consequences and see them as a part of my life to manage. These latest revelations put me in a different place, but, honestly, I am not sure what that place is. That is new for me. It creates an uncertainty I am not sure how to manage, but it is something I have to manage. It is another hurdle to jump. It is something that scares me a bit. I do not remember being scared when I first went into surgery in 1986 for the beginning of this surgical journey that has had 9 major chapters (and numerous footnotes). I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me I was very brave in 1991 as I laid in a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. I did not feel brave. I merely felt that I wanted to somehow live a better life than I was. At this point, I am not sure the goal is that much different. I merely want to know the best way to manage this lasting and unwanted companion. Ultimately, the future is uncertain, but that is not any different from anyone else. We are all uncertain and more or less unprepared for tomorrow,  because for the most part, we have less control that we might believe. That is the giftedness of life. It is more unpredictable than we might think. When people complain of boredom, I find myself asking where they live? I have never really been bored and I do not anticipate that will happen anytime soon. However, it is time to get back to the task at hand: grading, writing, commenting, and living this amazing life I have.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Where has 40 years gone?

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Hello from Fog and Flame,

While many feel there is a let down after the holidays, and there is some truth to that reality. However, the first part of February is, for me, a time of memories and events which have shaped my life in more ways than I am readily aware. The subconscious consequence of that February during my first foray into college has affected me and my outlook in more ways than my surface demeanor generally reveals. The second historical event of early February (and in fact his entire life) actually occurred before I was born, and had I not gone to Dana College and read the book, Letters and Papers from Prison, I would not be cognizant of the 4th of February 1906 and its significance, both for Germany, but more importantly perhaps for our present circumstances here in America. I need to write an actual editorial to the Press Enterprise in response to something published yesterday, but that will come. There is a lot on my plate today, but as is often the case, I need to organize my brain before I can proceed with the day’s tasks: grading, bills, responding to students’ needs (and yes that is the plural form), and getting the CDT ready for the coming week. I spent about 8 1/2 hours or more yesterday reading and commenting on others blogs, but some additional work is necessary today for I have completed that task.

It is early afternoon and many people are getting amped up for the Super Bowl. I am not even sure I am going to watch it, even for the commercials. I would be much better served just doing the work I need to do. If the Packers were playing, I must admit, I would be all over it.  Nonetheless, they did not quite make it, in spite of a rather ridiculous season. I am reminded when I had one of my graduate school officemates over to watch Super Bowl XXXI between the Patriots and the Packers. That was the year Desmond Howard ran back a kick off for a touchdown. There was also the first year I lived here in Bloomsburg, the Packers won the Super Bowl then too and I was in the middle of Steelers territory. Since then there have been near misses, but it is what it is. Ultimately, it is a game that creates a lot of hype and continues to be a cultural phenomena selling a lot of food and beer, and now demands $5,000.000.00 for a 30 second commercial spot. I wonder if that money might be spent more judiciously elsewhere? Again, I am sounding old, but that is becoming more the norm than the exception. The reality of age is front and center in a number of ways, be it in the morning mirror, in a conversation with my PCP this past week, or in the fact that I have scheduled-appointments with three different specialists in the next two weeks. Fortunately, since I came back from Poland, I have somehow been more focused and productive than I have been for some time. I am trying to figure out ways to “ratchet” that up to an even higher level. There is an interesting term: ratchet. It means something quite different today, no diva intended here. Language always fascinates me . . . it is dynamic and entertaining.

Part of my aging focus is remembering this week four decades ago. I had gone away to Ames, Iowa to be a student at Iowa State University and I was not managing that task very well. I had little direction, and, in spite of time in the Marine Corps, little discipline as I wandered aimlessly around that beautiful campus. I lived in the Towers, but did not really like the dorms. I had some seriously-partying-floor-mates and with them I was easily swayed, another example of my lack of direction. While the fall quarter had gone semi-reasonably, the Winter quarter was not off to a great start and when I got back after Christmas, my life was soon to get more complex. I had been foolish in how I responded to a breakup with the first girl I had actually ever dated. Her name was Barb and I was quite amazed by her. The fact that she was my pastor’s daughter, and the sister of my best friend, certainly did not help matters when I mishandled our demise. As such, I was already an emotional mess and decided that it was easy to simply assuage my broken heart through a bottle, a bong, or a blunt, or all of the above. Not a good plan. Within a week or so of returning to Ames, I received a phone call that my older brother had been seriously injured in a rather freak accident sustained while working as an electrician on a simple building project. The consequence was a massive brain hemorrhage and he had lapsed into a coma. My father, in his typical manner, encouraged me to continue with my studies and they would check in with me regularly and offer updates as needed. To be honest, I do not remember how I took that news beyond a rather sort of feeling sorry for myself instead of considering how it affected his wife and three small children. Consequently, I was now even more aimless and I chose to do nothing. I did not go to class, I did not ask for help, I merely drank and smoked more. Foolishness was not in short supply. The short story of what could be quite an entry was I finally went home on the 10th of February to see my brother for the first time. It was the end of the semester and finals were the next week.

As I got to the hospital that night, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what confronted me in that ICU cubicle. My brother was merely a shell of the person I had known. Between being totally assist-controlled and vented, his eyes had been taped shut to keep them from drying out. He had an enormous dent on the right side of his head where they had removed his skull to manage the swelling and he was down to less than 100 pounds left on his six foot frame. My sister-in-law, Carolyn, only 25 years old, was there, and that evening, I had gone to the hospital with my mother. In the five weeks my family had held vigil at his bed, my father, through tiredness and stress, had actually fallen asleep and sideswiped a guard rail on the highway, so they were down to one vehicle. What I realized was in my absence, they had tried valiantly to manage a terrible situation. In that room as I tried to make sense of the sight before me, I held my brother’s hand and spoke to him, hoping he might hear my inadequate and rambling attempts to tell him that he mattered and that I loved him. Yet, shortly after my first arrival that evening, he began to seizure from the complications of his injuries. We were ushered out of his space and they began to work with him attempting to manage those seizures. As we waited in a room for families, I called my father, who had stayed home because of a cold. I told him he needed to come to the hospital (about a 20 minute drive) and he noted he was leaving immediately. A few minutes later a doctor, one of the many attending at that point, joined us in that room as I held my sister-in-law’s hand. He spoke of complications and battles. There was little emotion, but some empathy in his words. Within a few minutes one of the nurses came into the room and they merely looked at each other. At that point, he turned to us and said simply, “I am sorry; we lost him.” I felt overwhelmed and helpless. I felt guilty and worthless. I had do nothing over that five weeks, and it seemed likely that my brother had waited until I showed up to leave this world. I looked out the window as my eyes welled up in tears and said in a voice above a whisper, but perhaps not as a shout, “FUCK!!” I had prayed in those weeks that he might be spared for a wife and children, and all I could see in my selfishness was an unanswered prayer. By the time my father arrived that night, my brother, Bob, had passed away. Again, in his wise manner, as his eyes filled with tears, he sniffed, and said softly, “It is better this way.” He was right, even though I did not want to accept that in the moment. I had to call my pastor that night, the same pastor whose daughter I had broken up with poorly. I had been banished from their house because of my previously mentioned foolish behavior. What I remember about that is Pastor Fred was an amazing pastor, and as the somewhat surrogate father he had become, he managed that side also. I still remember elements of that sermon, and he would eventually one day preach at my own ordination. Over the next couple of days, things are still a blur. I remember reaching out to another girl that I knew and I recollect that she actually went to the funeral home with me the first time I would see him in a casket. I remember needing to touch his hand to feel the coldness, the lack of body temperature, to believe I was not in the middle of a nightmare. I remember being at Carolyn’s house the next day with my Grandmother Louise, who is my hero to this day. That next day I walked out onto the porch experiencing a pretty warm day for a February in Iowa. I stood on the porch and cried. My Grandma held me like she had when I was small. Somehow, I felt safe in spite of myself.

From that time 40 years ago until today, my sister-in-law and I are still in contact and she is more like a sister than anything to me. She and I have both been through a lot, but we have maintained that appreciation for each other. She helped me when I struggled mightily that next year. The grandmother mentioned above would pass away only 7 months later and that was even more devastating to me. I had left Ames and was out of school. I was back home bartending and partying pretty much non-stop. Events that could have caused me a life of trouble were not far from my door. I would wander more, but Carolyn stood by and supported me and loved me, even in the midst of my stupidity. Ironically, in one major aspect I ended up ahead of her, completing my doctoral degree. She eventually did the same and I was able to help her, giving back as she had given to me. Those three young children are now middle aged adults themselves and growing up without their father has had consequences. I see that in ways perhaps they themselves do not. Yet, all three of them are very different; each intelligent and capable, but quite varied when it comes to how they manage their lives. All successful in many ways. Distance as well as my somewhat itinerate lifestyle has not allowed me to be as close as I should have been, but I do believe (or at least hope) they know I am proud of each of them and I love them. Fortunately, one of them has kept me in the loop quite well and for that I am grateful. I have often wondered how things might have been different if that tragic end to my brother’s life had not occurred. One can play hypothetical games and doing such is probably not that beneficial, but he would be retirement age now. I wonder what he would think of this world? He was an excellent mathematician and his two sons have that quality. He was an outstanding musician and I think all of the three children have that. Of course, Carolyn is an outstanding musician also. That is how the two of them met. He was a product of the late sixties and I think he might have been a life-long rebel or perhaps he would have finally settled down and followed our father’s footsteps of being the family person. It is fun to imagine. While he might have been bald, if he had hair yet, I can imagine it in a pony-tail. What I do hope is, wherever and however he might see this, is that he knows that I admired and looked up to him more than he ever knew.

The second thing I  noted in my intro was my college reading, and what eventually became a dissertation, on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For those of you unfamiliar with him. He was a German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In fact, shortly before the camp was liberated, he was hanged in Flossenbürg in April of 1945 because of his involvement in that plot. Bonhoeffer strongly believed the church had the obligation to speak out against the discrimination and abuse of power that was happening in Germany in the 1930s. When referring to the church as the spoke that had to stop the turning of the wheels as Germany embraced the propaganda of the Nazis. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong” (emphasis in original). When he noted the issue of the Jewish question, which of course is what the Nazis would call the Final Solution, Bonhoeffer wrote, “A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. There are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: first, … questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second, is service to the victims of the state’s actions (again, emphasis in original). The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Let us work for the good of all.” (Gal 6:10) These are both ways in which the church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to fall [ourselves] within the spokes of the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action on the part of the church. Bonhoeffer calls on us within the church to speak out strongly and to act powerfully against injustice, discrimination or executive orders when they create too little or too much law. Bonhoeffer’s call to action is relevant and important in this time. Seems I need to reread some of what I have read in the past. So much more I could write, but I will stop for now and leave you some thoughts about Herr Pfarrer Bonhoeffer.

To my nieces and nephews and to Carolyn, I am thinking of you this week, and I love you all. To the rest of you, thank you for reading.

Uncle Mike as you call me, Michael as I prefer.

Back to Normal . . . or . . .

Scan 679Hello on a Sunday afternoon from my office,

I am not sure where the first week of classes went, but what I do know is that it has been terrifically busy. I was speaking with one of the students on the trip to Europe during the break and we agreed that we are divided in our psyches on whether we would rather be there or here. It is certainly true that I miss Krakow and the City Center and the pastries and some of the other things we did not have here, but I am glad to be back and doing what I normally do . . . and it certainly did not slow down over the break. In fact, I came back to a number of things that have my head sort of whirling. We returned and it was almost midnight before I got into bed that evening. The next morning I was up at 7:00 and on the road shortly thereafter to drive back to Menomonie and visit my friend, former-colleague and terrific mentor, Dan Riordan. He is not your normal every-day person, though he would state just the opposite. He is an educator, an innovator, a photographer of quite some renown,  a loyal mentor of almost 15 years for me, and I am sure much longer for others, and a wonderfully personable and enjoyable man. He is a faithful husband, father, and grandfather, and the accolades could continue and I would not be overstating the situation. The two hour visit I had with him was wonderful and something I will cherish for many years. The picture above is what I looked like in my first teaching position when I was at Suomi College (now Finlandia Unviersity).

After a whirlwind trip, and being in Menomonie for less than 26 hours, the trip back East was brutal because of dense fog almost the entire trip. Once it got dark on Saturday night, there was no reprieve until I was almost in Bloomsburg at noon on Sunday. I spend a great deal of time on campus this past week, which is not uncommon for the first chaotic week back to classes, but I have also spent more than 10 hours this weekend also in my office. It has been productive though. I have a meeting yet tonight and more things I need to accomplish yet today, so I will be haunting Bakeless for more hours yet today. However, it is wonderfully silent and in the solitude, I am being quite productive. There are a number of critical things to manage in the next 24-48 hours, but that is nothing new. I just need to saltand up and face them all and do what needs to be done. This is again the case where my kindness has created difficulties and my hesitancy to push back has only created a more substantive difficulty for myself. I am going to probably have to make a couple of hard choices, but that is the consequence of my being kind or generous. I am learning, but that learning has been slow and painful. Perhaps a positive outcome will be actually learning to change my behavior, but that too requires a change, and that change goes against my sort of basic life philosophy.

School is already moving toward the end of the second week, and somehow every semester seems busier and more hectic than the one before. I am not sure if it is because I am getting older or it is honestly more demanding. This week I have been at school more than 12 hours a day and working almost non-stop and I am not caught up. I write this in spite of fewer students (in total number) and even scaling back some of the assignments. By the end of the week, I will have met with 10 students for specific appointments (and this is not counting those who dropped by without appointments during office hours), have attended 4 meetings that are not every-weekly scheduled, and will have finished commenting and grading 60 blogs. None of this notes that this is some life outside the campus to which some attention must be given. This is the part of my life that gets short-shriftef too often. It gets some attention only when absolutely required, before something more mind boggling happens. There are moments, and these thoughts happen regularly, where I wonder how people have spouses, kids, families and all the rest. I seem to barely handle work let alone much else. It is during those moments that retirement does not sound so ridiculous to me. So again, I am forced to ponder if it is merely old age. In grad school I was a full-time student, a full-time grad student and I managed a restaurant . . . and I got it all done and did not seem nearly as overwhelmed as I currently do. Then I remember I am only “contracted” to 17 hours a week, obligated to be “before another,” so why am I feeling stretched. Grrrrrrrrrr.

During this past week, the system, and more specifically the Chancellor announced that everything is on the table when it comes to determining how the system will move forward to make itself more fiscally viable. They did ask for 61 million dollars in additional appropriations, but even with that, which is not guaranteed to come to pass, we are not quite to the level the state provided the system 7 years ago. Yes, that sentence is correct. Our previous governor gutted the system to the tune of 90 million dollars his first year in office and never put an additional dollar into the system the remainder of his term. The consequences are still rippling through. The cost to students, their families, and those who work for the system have made up that gap and still are. Let me say that I understand there must be accountability for money given and spent, and a blank check is not what is needed, but austerity funding when it comes to education has consequences that are compounded for decades. From those who can come to school to issues of retention. From those who are willing to be hired to those who will stay for a lifetime of service to the system and state; and from what kind of educated population the Commonwealth will have and how they will view the importance of higher education and the salaries they will demand to the taxes they will pay. This is the dilemma through the country, and I have made a conscious decision to leave the national political situation out of this blog post. Unfortunately that is our circus and he is our monkey. That is pretty political and telling enough a statement for the moment.

Yesterday, after meeting with another group of the students from Poland, it seems that being part of that excursion continues to pay dividends in that it exposes both the department and the program to students who are really considering the importance of what they have learned. That is always a good thing. Perhaps the normal in all of this posting, besides the system being unchanged and a Chancellor that seems bent on running education as a business, and again, I understand there is a financial aspect to all of this, and being two weeks in and feeling four weeks behind, the normal is four days have past and I did not get this finished. I was back at the doctor to follow up on tests done before Poland. Along with results, it was determined I have pneumonia and so I am on antibiotics and some other things to combat this. I am still somewhat stunned that I managed to stay healthy while everyone else was getting ill, and within a few days of returning to the states, my immune system is not happy. We’ll make it through this as usual. It is also a bit frustrating in that I have had the pneumonia shot, which I thought was supposed to keep this from happening. Guess nothing is foolproof, and I know this, but dang!! It is now Saturday and I did not get his posted, but in an attempt to do so, I will finish up and probably start a new blog that will take on some of the thoughts that seem to be swirling in my head. Last evening, I had dinner at the house with Mykola (aka: Sw. Polyuha) and Anastasia. It was delightful and the chance to merely sit, eat dinner in a leisurely manner and chat about the trip was both enjoyable and insightful. It is like everything. We barely finish something and we are looking a year ahead. That is how far things need to be planned. There is always something on the horizon and the norm is living both in the future and the moment simultaneously. I think that might be one of the most important learning things as we get older. How is it we manage where we are, but realize the planning for the next week, month or year is necessary?

Well, I am in my office and planning to get work done for the day. It is a normal weekend: catch up and prepare for the next week. While many are considering their plans for Super Bowl parties this weekend, I am not really interested. Part of that is a Packer thing, but part of it is my own disdain for the money we are willing to spend there for salaries, tickets, stadiums, and all the rest, when there are many more terribly significant things going unnoticed.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin