Imagining Someone, Somewhere, Something Different

Winter on the Homefront

Winter on the Homefront

Good late afternoon (but it is already dark)

Hello from my little room in the dorm. It is barely 4:30 in the afternoon, but it is already dark. The students went to the salt mine in Wiekiczka this afternoon following morning culture class and lunch. I came back to the dorm and did a bit of work, then took a lengthy nap, and now I am up and working on some things I hope to accomplish for the evening. I am slightly hungry, but I want to wait for the others to come back to eat. I do have some food in the room from our foray into the neighborhood and the market the other day, so I am fine. At lunch today, I was fortune enough to share time with a couple of students and Dr. Orla-Bukovska. We began some initial conversations about an option of coming back to Poland to learn the language for a summer term. I am also considering applying for a Fulbright Scholarship. I know they are harder to get, but it could certainly make the possibilities of learning Polish and studying much more likely. There are other things to work out also, but I think I just need to get going. I have always had a tendency to imagine things, but I have not been as likely to try to see them through to reality. I have probably lost some opportunities because of this.

I think it is in our imagination where we first begin to understand ourselves. Scholar Susan Babbitt notes in her 1996 article titled “Impossible Dreams: Rationality, Integrity and Moral Imagination” wrote, “Conventional wisdom and commonsense morality tend to take the integrity of persons for granted.” So much to unpack in this statement because it considers both the ethical possibilities for us as humans, but conversely forces us to consider what happens when people act with something less than a certain level of moral turpitude. Is it because our dreams or imagining of the other forces us to think outside what we have? Does that thinking lead to selfishness? Should or must it? These are some of the things I wonder about. One of my struggles with imagining the other, if you will, is I already feel I am living it. The other occurred when I went to live with my grandparents by the time I was two years old. The other occurred when I was adopted shortly before I turned five years old. The other occurred when I left for college and attempted to live a life that had never occurred in my biological or adopted family. Finally the other occurred as I have moved through the various levels of education and now to become a college professor, which is not anything that was ever expected or planned until I was probably in my 30s, the time when many others have already completed their studies. Therefore, the idea that I should still consider the possibility of the other seems fundamentally absurd to me on some level. Yet, my desire to learn, to grow, and to experience more keeps me wondering, and wandering, or so it seems.

If I were to be someone else, there are some things I might change. I would wish to not be a person suffering with Crohn’s and a person who has endured almost double-digit numbers of abdominal surgeries. I would wish that perhaps I really had been a parent. I would wish that somehow I might have been a bit taller, a bit more coordinated, a bit more handsome. How’s that for true confessions? And yet, as is always the case, those changes would have compounded and created yet other changes, and the likelihood that I would be writing this blog is probably beyond the area of remote. What, might you  ask, if anything, do I like about being me? Well, I do believe that I have a giving-spirit and a kind and generally gentle heart. As I generally tell others, I will never enter or win a beauty contest, but I do not have to sneak up on a glass of water to get a drink. So . . . I guess I do wish I was a little taller, a bit more in shape, but that is my own fault, and I certainly might not be feeling sad had the Crohn’s not been a companion for over three decades. In fact, I have now lived longer with this malady than without it. Yet, not surprisingly, even the most difficult of things are part of who I am, they are my story, my narrative, and as such my identity. What is identity? Those are things I have pondered before. How much of our identity is self-created and how much of it is foisted upon us, perhaps even decided for us? I know that I have spent much more time in my life worrying about what others thought and that influenced who I understood myself to be than I might like to admit. What would another version of me even begin to be, to look like, or act like, or . . .

The imagining of somewhere is probably the easiest for me. There are a variety of reasons for that, and some of those things have been topics in previous blog posts (see June of 2014 where I speak about my  mother or November 2014 when I address issues of identity and place). What gives a person a sense of place has been one of my haunting themes throughout my life. Again, I know from where these trepidations come and I know how I have managed them, generally speaking. I know that I have learned to make wherever I am home, but I also have this profound sense of wanderlust. I am always interested in what is around that next corner. As a child, we took to vacations and both of them were primarily in the Midwest. The Black Hills of South Dakota are a bit more western, but that is certainly the farthest I got away from Sioux City as a child. As I have noted in other blogs, I have traveled pretty extensively and the last couple of years have only increased those opportunities. There are certainly things on my bucket list that cause some addition hopes, but I now see that as merely another way to learn and manage. What has become exceedingly apparent to me as I travel and experience things is that is when I am truly alive and learning. Somewhere is much more than place to me. I think somewhere has much more to do with both place and context. If you think about a sense of place, it has something to do with the geographical attributes, but it has as much to do with the “what”. What happened in that geographical place is what you remember and it affects your memory in a more complete and emotional manner. Over the past few days as I have walked the streets and looked at the signs in the windows or listened to the voices around me, comprehending even minimally would be kind, I have felt like the stranger or the other. It is interesting to me how I am able to find a way to feel some degree of comfortableness wherever I happen to be. Sometimes it is in merely walking around and observing; sometimes it is in realizing that I have a sort of inner strength because of some of the things that have occurred in my life that have taught be to keep going and never quitting. I know that it is another experience from which I can learn yet something else about the world and myself. One of the classes the students are taking is a class on Central European Cinema. The movies we have watched are much different that what a typical American film would be. We actually got the first lecture yesterday and it was interesting to see how film actors in Central Europe tend to be dramatic stage actors and then do film as a sort of an extra curricular thing. It is the opposite of what happens in the states. The second thing that is quite different about the films we have watched is they are much different in their budgeting and, as such probably in their expectations. The are much more realistic, sort of in your face. I wonder if that realism is because the culture here seems much more honest in dealing with the world. I know that is a significant statement that needs to be unpacked a bit, but I need to think more about it before I try to do that.

Imagining something different for me is actually a bit difficult. I am doing what I love to do even though it was not what I expected my life to be. I know that begs the question of what did I expect, but what I am realizing more and more is I had no expectations. I am not sure what I thought I would be or where I wanted to be. I am not sure that I had expectations in terms of marriage, children, or any other such thing. When I consider these statements, what I realize is I had little to no sense of what I might become, where I might be doing it, why I would even have decided to be or do something. I am wondering if that makes me abnormal or if many of us are really not sure where it would all go and how it would turn out. I was asked today if I had any regrets in my life or things I would have done differently. This made me think on a couple of different levels. There are small things we wish might have been different, and I think we all can see those things. What about the major things in our lives? My answer to that question at the time was perhaps I wish I would have been a real biological parent. I do believe that part is a truism for me. I do wonder what it might have been like to actually succeeded at being married. I wish at times that might have been the case. I have noted to some who know him, sometimes I worry that I am going to be this generations version of my Uncle Clare, or even my grandmother. I think I am probably more like her. She lost her husband when she was only 43 years old. That was pretty young to be a widow and she lived for another 21 years single. I have been single for 15 and counting. There are times I think I want to take a chance and then there are times I am quite content as I am. So do I really imagine something different. I am not sure I do. Probably because I so enjoy what I do most of the time. I love that I can meet so many amazing students and the fact that I have been given the opportunity to travel with them right now is something I had only dreamt of once upon a time. I know that my first trip to Europe with Dr. Nielsen was life changing and perhaps some of the same will happen for a student now.

The group of students that is here with Dr. P and me are quite amazing. They are working and thinking. They are experiencing beyond what one might imagine. Many today were taking the writing task they have coming up this week this some real seriousness. It was enjoyable to speak with them and ask some questions and get them to think. Well, it is actually a few hours until I want to write about another issue, but I will close this blog up and again, as is always the case . . .

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

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