Last Day and the First of Many

  

Hello from Puerto Plata,

Yesterday ending up being a day of unexpected occurrences. José and I took the car back and we ended up with a tour of the resort we spent the year before visiting called Lifestyle. It was not quite the way we expected the weekend to end, but Jose Melissa and I were treated you’re quite the couple days. Between having a chef fix breakfast, our own pool, and a barbecue being cooked for us, it was quite the couple days. The long story short is that we now own a four bedroom villa with our own swimming pool and the opportunity to spend much more time in the Dominican Republic. My visit to the republic this time is much different than a year ago. Well last year I was more naïve and wide-eyed, this year I had a sense of purpose and the foundation on which to base my experience. While my language skills as far as speaking were not necessarily much better my comprehension and reading skills were certainly at a different level. That also made the experience much different. 

Going to the island with Melissa and her father was also a different experience from last year. I remember writing about the expression on Jose’s face and the emotion that I saw or experienced as he saw his homeland for the first time in a couple decades. It was almost as long for Melissa since she had last visited, not quite 20 years. But this time she was not a preschooler she was a college graduate and the person who quite understands who she is. This visit allowed her to have the opportunity to understand from where she comes. To consider her identity, both as a Hispanic and a Dominican. We have the opportunity one day to speak about that and she noted that her visit to La Vega and the opportunity to meet relatives, some for the first time, was significant. This was one of the things that I specifically hoped might happen for her. I know this because for the most part I do not have that opportunity with my own family even though they would be in this country. We have the opportunity to once again to stop and eat and visit with the people we met a year ago at El Cocinero. They were is amazing, beautiful, and wonderful as last year. Their graciousness their hard work and their kindness are unmatched. I’m so glad we decided to do what we did and then I will have the opportunity to return to this amazing island hopefully many times in the future. I must admit I was so stunned and frightened by the driving habits of the locals, to whom I refer to as loco. I honestly believe that would be my one fear should I ever decide to move and spend significant time in the DR. There are no words to describe how they drive. Imagine ants  scurrying out of an art hole, on steroids. The last two days in the Dominican Republic were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. As I have noted many times I grew up in a blue-collar family and my father worked tirelessly, at times seven days a week. To be waited on and have breakfast fixed for me or barbecue created and my own swimming pool, was not something I amaretto imagined. Yet that was what happened to us. As I finished my last day there when I realized was it was the first day of what was to come. Something be on my wildest dreams; certainly something beyond any expectation that I had when I returned the previous week.

A week is passed, I started this blog and I managed to finish it and lose it. So it is now the last night of my summer vacation. Classes begin tomorrow in the past week has been meetings, preparation, and yes, some anticipation. I have worked on syllabi,course delivery tools, and other chores necessary to be prepared for yet another year. When I realized in the past week is that I passed the threshold, A threshold of time. I have now spent more time in Bloomsburg that I have spent in any one place since I graduated from high school 42 years ago. Up until this last week that place had been Menomonie. Now is Pennsylvania. I’ve known over the past months with the passing of Lydia that my focus would change in that Pennsylvania would become my home. As I continue to work on the house and the yard I know that the routes I have here are now strong. That is not to say that my Menomonie friends are no longer important; in fact nothing could be further from the truth. But professionally this hasbeen the best years of my life. I have amazing colleagues. I’m surrounded by terrific people. I have developed wonderful friendships. And I am blessed by one of the most amazing jobs I could ever hope to have. I have been treated with dignity and respect and I believe I have created a strong sense of who I am and what I have to offer. One of my colleagues said to me the other day that I had a reputation as being a generous and kind person. I could ask for nothing more. The other thing I’m realizing is that I could never have imagined at the age of 60 that my life would be so blessed. I’m still wondering how I got to this age and where all the time has gone.

This evening I was in a meeting with a member of the first year students, members of the business LLC. They spoke about their own fears and their anticipation about the week to come.  I found their comments to be insightful, honest, and therefore hopeful. As I prepare for my own classes tomorrow I will see some students that I’ve had in the past. I will see some of the students fromthe summer, and they will have already changed.  I will have new students both freshmen and upperclassman and we will learn from each other. That is perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of having the opportunity to be in a classroom. There is always learning from anyone and everyone. My own goals for the year are to continue to improve my teaching, to be better at what I do.  I have some significant things that I hope to accomplish and I have the time offered to do those things. It will be important to get them done and to do them well. From the time I was a little boy I have always looked forward to a new school year. This past summer I was referred to as the old white guy (El hombre viejo blanco). It is no longer middle-age I’m just old. I guess according to age for something that might be true, but I don’t really feel old. In spite of all the things that I’ve done and had to go through I feel OK. In fact I feel pretty darn good. I’m not sure what I expected I would be like at 60 or what I would be doing. However, I do know this: I did not expect to be single, childless, a college professor, or living in East. So I guess that means I pretty much had no idea that my life would turn out this way. What did I expect? I’m not sure I know. When I do know is it’s been quite a ride and I have been richly blessed. 

In spite of the many things I’ve had to endure, or things that have happened or those things that many lseem to believe to be even unfair, I do not feel slighted or do I feel unfairly tested. I have merely have life that has never been boring or expected. I have had challenges, but have also been also been provided options. It is for that reason as much as any that I have no complaints. It is for that reason I only see the end of something as the opportunity for something else. I am not a complainer for thost part. I am generally optimistically. 

Well I know I did not get everything back in, but I plan an early more so I will close for the night. I wish all of who who are following , whether recently or for a while good things. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Traveling and Remembering

MeltingHola para de República Dominicana,

Blogs el año pasado yo estaba en relativamente el mismo lugar: Puerto Plata. Estoy aquí voy a José una vez más, pero esta vez Melissa está aquí para el viaje. Hoy han sido visitar otros lugares y tenía el día para mí. Estoy ‘esperando’ para que vuelvan. Estamos en tiempo de República Dominicana, y José está a cargo, por lo que sólo Dios sabe cuándo realmente tenemos cena. Aunque creo que la Facultad el año pasado podría haber sido un lugar más agradable, este viaje fue todo incluido y como tal, ha sido una especie de cerebro no. No hay realmente mal lugar parece, así que hoy que decidí simplemente el día y relajarse. Fui a un paseo de hora y media a lo largo de la orilla con Adam y Lucy, dos del grupo de canadienses que conocí el otro día. Era un agradable paseo y se encontraron algunos tesoros de coral y conchas. He disfrutado hoy en particular porque he tomado algún tiempo para mí y esta noche fuimos a la ciudad y comió la cena en el descubrimiento el año pasado, El Cocinero. Que tenía la ensalada de langosta y algunos batata frita. Melissa también quedó impresionada con la comida, pero nos deliraron sobre él hasta el año pasado.

Es ahora martes por la mañana y estoy en el desayuno con José. Melissa está durmiendo. Necesito hacer un trabajo de la escuela hoy y necesito que tipo de plan a thecremainder dve vacaciones. Se probabky hacer un viaje a WI la próxima semana para finalizar un par de cosas y espero conseguir otra escuela trabajo administrativo terminado. Volviendo a El Cocinero hoy ha sido un placer. Melissa tuvo el pescado en una salsa de Lima y fue increíble. Me alegra que tomaron el tiempo para ir allí los dos últimos días. Son personas increíbles y si de alguna manera pude conseguirlos para poder visitarme en Pennsylvania, gustaría que vienen a visitar. Hicimos algunas compras y lo hice algún pensamiento. Fue un día bastante relajado y después de pasar tal vez demasiado tiempo en el sol ayer, le estoy dando es un descanso hoy. Okay . . . back to English. I has taken me some time to write this, but it is a good practice for me. I am pretty sure there are mistakes, but I am hoping that those of you who can read Spanish can understand what I was trying to say. It has been a good time to visit the restaurant from last year for the past two days and see the amazing people who work there  so hard everyday. They are so wonderful and the food is so amazing.

I did get my grading finished and turned in today, so that is something off my plate and something important for the students. That reminds me I should send an email to Dr. Cheese letting her know that the two students with incomplete grades for the session did finish their work. For the most part some of the students I had this past summer were as capable as any students I have had, but some of the were the least motivated I have ever day also. Those are frustrating things for me. Otherwise, in general I love teaching every day and I am glad when I actually make a difference in another person’s life. Sometimes those differences are small, but once in a while, there is something significant that happens. Last night I got a message from a college classmate, she was a year behind me, but younger than that because I was older. She had a boyfriend on my floor and I remember she used to call the hall phone every morning to be an alarm clock of sorts for him. There was only one problem: he never got up to answer the phone. I remember one morning the hall phone rang and one of the frustrated guys on the floor answered it in a way that was less than polite and it was not the girlfriend, but someone’s mother. That created a phone call to the dean of students and a floor meeting about phone etiquette that night. Yikes! Anyway, I have two former Dana classmates who have a more conservative bent than I have and sometimes they love to pound away on me on Facebook posts, but all in all I think I can manage. The one is an attorney, I think, and while he writes reasonably well, his logic is not always the best (rather oxymoronic), which surprises me. The second classmate was a floor-mate my freshman year. He seems to come out of left field(more accurately right field) at times and I am not always sure what prompts his posting. There are some seriously important issues in what he writes, but there are certainly non-sequiturs in what he is saying, so I have to try to fill in the pieces. Sometimes, I am not sure I am as successful as I might hope to be. Interestingly, last night, the sister-in-law of the attorney (and previously mentioned infamous-phone-calling-girlfriend) jumped into the conversation also. So I am out-numbered three conservatives to one rather conservative democrat, but certainly liberal to the three of them. So I have a post there to work on today also, but that is fine.

What I have realized is that this particular week in August seems to be a traveling week for me. In 2003, I was just moving to Wisconsin, In 1992, a few days later I was actually moving to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 2007,  I had just returned from California, after spending most of the summer in Placerville. It was when I met a person who still boggles me, but has seemed to disappear once again. In 2009, I was moving to Pennsylvania, traveling cross country on the Harley. Last year, during this same week, I was in the Dominican Republic as I am now. It seems much longer than a year ago, but so much as happened. It is interesting how a location, the sights, sounds, and smells can bring you back to an earlier time in your life. What I remembered last year about the amazing ladies at El Cocinero was both their work ethic and their genuine care and smiles. When we got there the other day, they were shocked. Today we spoke with them – thanks to Melissa – about the year that has occurred and how much has changed in that time. When I walked around the open door and they saw me on Sunday, they were shocked, but genuinely happy to see us. It was wonderful to see them. I am not sure what it is about this week and traveling. Some of it is because of school schedules and I have often taught in the summer. Some of it has been the need to move from one place to another before a school year begins. What is rather shocking is how often it has been on the exact same days. This trip to the Dominican Republic is exactly the same days as last year. I do love to travel and see new things and experience new possibilities. I still need to work on my Spanish. I want to do so much more than I am doing. I have learned a great deal considering I have only attended about 8 classes and did everything else on my phone, with a lot of help from Melissa and Jose. It is better this year. I understand the great majority of what I read. I struggle still when I listen and I am not confident as I would like in my speaking.

I wish I could go to an immersion school. I might have to check into such a possibility. That would be a quicker and more intentional way to manage my hopes to learn Spanish. I know there is much to do yet, but it is something I am both interested in doing and something I enjoy. What I am also realizing is that I do not manage as much on my plate as I did at one time. I need to be more focused and too many things seem to boggle me much more now than they might have done earlier in my life. Well, what I know is I still love to learn and I am never tried of trying new possibilities. During the past 20 years or so, I have been across the entire country more than a couple times. I have been in cars, trucks, motorcycles, planes, and in large and small airports. Seldom to I really tire of it all, but at the moment, my eyes are a little droopy. I think I might sign off and take a quick nap before our Brazilian evening meal. It has been a wonderful few days and the remembering and traveling are two of my favorite things. During the week we traveled again to La Vega, where Jose grew up and also to Jarabocoa, which is in the central mountains of the island. It was a beautiful place and somewhere I hope you will perhaps hear more about. There are a number of things I would need to work on, but we will see what happens. I hope you are well as you read this and enjoying your own times. It has been as hot here this week that the beginning picture would be appropriate.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

91 Years of Creating Memories

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Good early morning,

It is about 2:30 a.m. and I’m awake. I had hoped to get this written and posted yesterday on Lydia’s birthday but it did not happen. Technically, the night before last I woke up at 11:58, two minutes before her birthday. The last few days I’ve been fighting an infection and I think I have managed to get bronchitis once again, so I had gone to bed early in the evening. Carissa, the former administrator at Lydia’s COH residence, had texted me with picture of her with Lydia on Lydia’s last two birthdays shortly before hand. There Lydia was scowling as almost always, sitting by her cake. The only time I ever saw Lydia smile for her birthday was when I surprised her on her 85th with the party, inviting over a few of the longest tenured friends of her life. If she had known I had set up this party, she would have refused to attend, but she was shocked and even enjoyed herself. I posted the picture of her on Facebook yesterday and commented that the picture and post was in memory of the most amazing lady I’ve ever known. Some of the COH staff posted, but over 70 people liked it. Lydia would be shocked. She would let me know in her Austrian accent rather emphatically that she thought such recognition was stupid.  She did not like a fuss on her behalf. Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate. I think she liked that people cared, but she did not know how to respond, so it made her uncomfortable.  It would then overwhelm her and therefore it was easier for her to just ignore and be reclusive.

It seems rather ironic to be reclusive and yet have such a big heart and care so much at the same time, an oxymoronic behavior of sorts. But that was not her only oxymoronic behavior, Lydia was quite the expert in caring about others and seeming aloof within the same moment. She would send out hundreds of dollars in donations to people and animals, while simultaneously lamenting the stupidity of the great majority of the world around her. I found out in around 2007 she had bought enough toilet paper because of her fear of Y2K to last her for seven years, but once when she took food to the local pantry with Kevin, her painter,  he told me she literally cried as she witnessed the poverty of those in her own town. She owned no pets, but in the time that I knew her she bought thousands of pounds of dog food to feed the neighbor’s dog, the squirrels, and every other living creature or crritter within a two square mile radius.  She can make me laugh with both her actions and her comments and she could exasperate me like no other. The love she exhibited for and gave to me made her the most wonderful mother I could have ever hoped to have, and I was almost 50 before I met her. That barely 90 pounds of boundless energy was a force to be reckoned with. With a penchant for omelettes and the ability to eat more bananas than anyone I’ve ever met, she managed her mansion of a house and the amazing property one water can, one broom, and one dustpan at a time. Well technically I might be lying about the broom. She usually had about five of them. I remember her neighbor once asking me how she was, and I answered she was doing just fine. The neighbor’s somewhat curt response was, “yes, one leaf at a time.” She would be out in her yard, more committed than the post-office slogan, sweeping 365 days a year. What Lydia accomplished in the 19 years she exceeded George in life was quite astounding. She understood hard work and perseverance.

While many found her prickly, and perhaps, distant or aloof, her reason for this affect was really about her stature and her accent. She once told me that she tried to get rid of that accent when she was first a student at Northwestern University, but it never happened. In addition, her two-digit-midget status often caused people to under-estimate her determination, her intelligence, and certainly her vigor. I think much like Dennis, who lived there for such a long time before me and watched out for her, I did also. I think the fact that she had been alone and older made her more accommodating to the person in the little house and I think the fact that I worked at the university as she had, also created a bond. I had no inkling that I would be adopted by this reclusive and amazingly insightful woman. I had no idea that driving Miss Lydia would turn into cooking for Miss Lydia, or mowing for Miss Lydia, or snow blowing and shoveling for Miss Lydia. I became her son and she became my mother. I have noted this before, but I am still realizing the truth of that existence. I remember once being told I should merely pull away, or I would need to, but I could not do so. I realized that the real purpose for me in Menomonie was to be a caregiver, a surrogate son, a cook, a yard tender, and eventually the caretaker of this wonderfully vibrant woman.

Between Kevin, Tony, Jack, and others who did work for her, I became the person to organize and make sure that she somehow did not make their jobs more difficult. As it became apparent that Lydia had dementia, there would be new concerns. I learned from her doctor, an amazing man and brilliant human and physician, that was to come would not be easy. It was at that point, the reality of my place in Menomonie really hit me. It would be my task to keep her safe. That was both heartwarming and frightening. She was not an easy person to convince about most anything. It was more than once she emphatically told me, “You don’t know a damn thing!” Even when I had researched, spoken with her doctor or others. I was petrified the day Nathan and I moved her to Comforts of Home. That day was probably more traumatic to me than the first day of Marine Corps boot camp. I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I could write pages about Lydia, and, in fact, hope someday to write a book about her, but suffice it to say that as what would be her 91st birthday is here, I miss her daily, I love her more deeply and I respect her even more profoundly.

Lydia, you will always be a mother to me. I am blessed by what you shared with me in life and what you taught me. I am blessed by the beauty of your memory and the way you cared for those you loved. I am blessed that you made my time in Menomonie a place of joy and serenity when my professional life there was something a bit less. I miss you every day. I am still working on all the things you asked me to do, but I will complete it as I promised. I am so grateful for the memories of your smile, your radiance and your beauty. I am blessed that because of you I can help others. I love you with all my heart. I will write your book and I hope you know how much I miss those brilliant eyes that sharp wit and your beautiful smile and that voice that sounded like no other. Happy Birthday, dear Lydia! Ich liebe dich auf immer und ewig.

Thanks to everyone who greeted her for her birthday and thank you for reading.

Michael

Imagining a Different Reality

IMG_1103

Good Morning,

I am sitting in my car waiting for someone after already having a conference call this morning, working with contractors this morning, and delivering people to a particular location. That is only the beginning of a long list of items I need to manage today. Today is catch-up day as there are no classes. I will be, however, busy. I began this blog the other day, but as you can see I did not get very far. What I wanted to focus on for this blog was my reaction to the Google Maps that my students presented late last week. I was quite impressed with some of the things that were in their maps, though I would admit some of them might have worked a little more diligently on their presentation specifics. All too often we do not realize the things we have in front of us on a daily basis. There is so much to the story of each of us that is not apparent when we merely look at the surface. There is so much to each of us that is part of our fabric and provides a sense of identity, but yet goes unnoticed. The pressure that many of my students feel on a daily basis comes to the fore in a variety of ways, but it takes thoughtfulness and attentiveness to begin to extract and interpret it.

We have been reading the John Irving novel, The Cider House Rules; perhaps more accurately, they are supposed to be reading. They will have some long hours over the next few days if they are to cover the assignment. That is one of the brutal parts of the summer. Things come so quickly and there is hardly time to absorb what is coming as it comes so quickly. Irving has such a descriptive way of seeing the world in which we live and he certainly is not afraid to take on elements of our lives that we do not speak about in proper company. It is what I believe compels us to keep reading. I remember the first time I assigned the text, having not completed it myself, and when I got to a particular scene in the first 100 pages or so, I was stunned at what I had assigned for my students to read. As I read the book, I found myself appreciating the candor of Irving’s style and the way he forced me to think about some issues that actually have some relevance to my life. As I am writing here and trying to imagine things about the world in which we live, sometimes I find myself hopeful and other times I find myself cynical. . . . literally a number of days (now into double-digits) have passed since I got to work on this. That might be longest in a while that I have not blogged. Between teaching, working on the Credit by Exam (CBE) essays and other work, it seems there are not enough hours in the day, but I also know my ACT 101 students are living that reality, so I doubt there is much sympathy from them on that. Back to the idea of being somewhat cynical about the world in which we live. As I was at breakfast this morning at the diner, again I am reading that 5 people were killed in one place in Oklahoma. It seems that daily we are hearing of multiple homicides because of the anger of a single person. Is the world actually more violent or do we merely have more ways to be provided this disturbing information? It is now because we are seeming on an endless string of what seems senseless that the media is making us more aware? I am not sure what to think, but I am convinced that we are on a path of seemingly senseless violence that I believe has to cut to the very core of what civil people would hope their world to be. I would be petrified to bring a child into this absurdity. Even as I write this yet another theater shooting has occurred. . . . It is Friday morning and I am working with two student groups to get them ready to present something at their banquet next Wednesday. It is interesting to me how their thought processes work as they move toward something. These are strong students and they are certainly thinking, but they struggle with analysis and the consequences of choice. It is a basic inability to make connections. This does not mean they are incapable, what it means, or at least I think, is that they have never been pushed to do so, and as such they are being asked to do something or accomplish something with little or no previous experience. This is the sort of thing that amazes me and I wonder if I was the same. From what I remember, I am pretty sure I was. In fact, I believe in many ways, I was slower then than they are now.

Thanks to mi familia de la dominicana, I am more inclined to pay attention to Latino/a issues and I have worked much harder to include bilingual aspects into this summer course. I wish my Spanish was more advanced than it is. En esta clase de verano tengo estudiantes puertorriqueños, estudiantes dominicanos, estudiantes colombianos, y estoy seguro que hay otro estudiante de un pais latino, pero he perdido la pista de  cual es. Creo que le voy a preguntar a uno de ellos que trabaje conmigo este año que viene en mi español y trabajar como mi tutor. El estudiante no es dominicano, pero lo que será interesante es ver si veo algunas diferencias. Sospecho que si habran. Lo que me estoy dando cuenta una vez más es que intento hacer demasiado con muy poco tiempo. Este es uno de mis malos habitos y me mete en problemas, sobre todo conmigo mismo, pero a veces con otros tambien. Me han dicho varias veces que este es un problema que yo mismo me busco.  Esta realización ha convertido mi verano muy triste en lo que me ha echo anticipar el otonio para tener menos trabajo.

It is almost 12:30 and there is a lot on my plate today. Soon I will be taking the students I have here at the Fog and Flame back up to campus. Then I need to run some errands and then it is back to the CBE work that is necessary to complete by next week. . . . how it is another week has gone by and I see more behind than every. Some of it is because of the time I have spent on my summer classes. I know that it takes more time that I can give during the academic year, but it is an important thing because I believe we are asking so much of so many who are not prepared for what is coming. In what manner are many least prepared (and I do not limit this to the summer, but the condensed format exasperates this deficiency)? It is having study habits or any kind of discipline that prepares them for the elevated demands of college writing (or any class for that matter). Studies show that the NCLB program and the propensity of “teaching to the test,” which seems to be the norm rather than the exception for many systems has left most students unprepared for any sort of critical thinking, analysis, and lacking the ability other than merely jumping through a hoop, which is seldom more than memorization/regurgitation. I know when I tell them that most of them have never really written a final paper in their English classes, they look at me as if I am from outer space. At least I am hoping that is why they look at that way. There might be other reasons. That is for another time. However, I must note that twice this past week I have been referred to as “that old white guy.” I am not beyond being called middle aged. When I consider my biological reality. It is a truism. I am certainly not in the middle years of my life any longer.

That brings me back to the idea of a different reality. What would my life be if I had not moved to Menomonie, somewhat at the last minute? I was not really looking for a job when that option was shared with me by my chair, Dr. Robert Johnson. It started a cascade of events that eventually led me to Bloomsburg and where I am not. So many people get caught up in the idea of if it were possible to go back to an earlier point in their lives or if they might do things over again. I think I have noted that I would not wish for such a thing, and I believe that is still where I find myself today. There are certainly too many things that have been painful, but those things are part of who I am. They are certainly part of the reason I find it pretty easy to be empathetic and to desire to help another person. There are too many times (even yet) where I have felt, and still feel, more on the outside looking in than most might imagine. I am that lonely-in-a-crowd person. I am not lamenting that, just stating how I see things. What I realize each day is that we are given a gift. It is the gift of time. This past soon to be six weeks, I have 21 remaining students who have had to pay for an opportunity to come to class. I understand it is hard to see the opportunistic aspect of something when you are paying a lot of money for it. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity, one which I believe the President of the university laid out quite well for them the other night. The money they have spent for the summer can be replaced, perhaps not immediately, but it can be replaced. In fact, they can even make more money than they might have had before, but the one thing we cannot replace is the time that is gone. There is no option to relive something. I am realizing that time is the most valuable commodity we have. I wish I might have realized that as clearly as I do now much earlier. Then I might have made better use of the many hours or days I wasted be it being lazy, being stupid, being intoxicated, or being a number of other things that I could have probably done better. The reality is this. Life is . . .  what we do with that gift is entirely up to each of us. Certainly others influence us and there are many things that influence our realities, but when we are put into the corner and have to look out, how we manage it is entirely up to us. I am grateful to so many people who have influenced me. I know more than I have ever known, but what I know most is how little I know and how blessed I have been. Here is a song that sort of spells it out for me at this point.

This is a song that means as much to me as perhaps any song I have ever heard. Thanks for reading and listening.

Dr. Martin

A Week to Remember

  Hello from the diner,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Randomness (Sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Imagining what if?

Buenos días de Bloomsburg,,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Michael