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 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

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


Hello at almost midnight on a Friday night,

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,


Trying to Manage the Pieces


Hello from my snowy little corner.

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

A week of disjuncture 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you as always for reading. 

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)