Thursday, February 28, 2013


There are times that I find myself frustrated with myself.  Some them--many of them, rather--are recognitions that I have been stupid in some way or another.  Perhaps I said something I ought not to have said; I often let fly some quip or biting piece of invective before I think about doing so, reacting with a well-trained reflex to a situation that calls for another response than the one I give.  Perhaps I did not say something that I ought to have said; for example, I am not always good at recognizing the good that is granted me, and so I do not offer my thanks for it.  Perhaps I did something that I ought not to have done, such as eating dairy when I have not had a pill for it.  Or perhaps I neglected to do something I should have done, such as bring back home the containers in which my lunch traveled to work.

Sometimes, however, it is not through an actual stupidity that I frustrate myself.  Sometimes, such as now, I am at work on something that does need doing--laundry, for example, and keeping up with correspondences--but I had meant to be at work on something else--say, a paper for a conference, an abstract for another conference, or revision of a piece of writing for publication.  I cannot fault myself for doing what I am doing; it does need to be done, after all, whether for social reasons or because I have obliged myself to attend to it.  Promises are promises, regardless of those to whom they are made.  Yet I am ill at ease for not doing the other things that I know need doing.

Today, I am particularly concerned with my writing.  I have been putting words on pages--physical and web--throughout the day, today, so that I have been taking care of several tasks to which I had obligated myself.  But there are many other writing projects to which I need to devote attention than those to which I have already attended this day; of note are the many scholarly projects that are bouncing around in my head at any given time. I need to do more work on my own research, not just because I have one paper to present and want to give another one later on in the year, not just because I want to rework my dissertation into a scholarly monograph, but because a number of the ideas I have are not going to leave me alone until I get them onto the page and out of my head.  Too, I want to model for my students the behavior I want to see from them--which means I need to develop examples of the kind of work that I want to see them do, and I likely should compile materials for them to use to do that work.

Yet I find myself instead attending to my personal writing, the kind of things that I show only in limited circumstances if at all.  As I have noted, I am active in gaming communities, and I have said to members of them that I would do certain things.  They are obligations I am happy to discharge, and they do bring me pleasure in addition to that which I derive from completing any task.  Too, I have long promised myself that I would maintain a journal at a certain rate of textual production, and I have worked towards that end today.  And even this blog, which I do not update often or extensively enough, is such a thing, even if it is more widely displayed than my gaming writing and my journal writing.  So while I am doing what I ought to be doing, I am not quite exactly doing what I ought to be doing, and that is frustrating.

And now I have to wonder if I am, in fact, being stupid.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


My beloved wife and I have seen entirely too many members of our families die recently, four in the past three months.  Both of us lost a great uncle; I lost an uncle only Sunday, and she lost her brother in January.

I could easily slip into a string of clichés.  Death tends to provoke such a thing, and I well understand why.  For those impacted by the deaths, words do not suffice to express what is felt--even less than they ever do.  And those people are placed behind a barrier by the impact of the death, the which makes it difficult or impossible for other people to offer anything that resembles a meaningful statement.  But there is still the ingrained expectation that something needs to be said, and so we fall back on things that have been said time and again.

I hope to avoid the clichés.  I have not always been able to do so, I admit; even though it has been remarked that my expression of emotion in the face of a loved one's passing was somewhat surprising, I do feel, and I feel intensely.  Sometimes, it robs me of whatever it is that I have that passes for wit, and I act out of the need to say something, anything, to try to make such pain as is present go away.  It matters not whether the pain is mine or that of others whom I love.

And, yes, there are people whom I love.

But there are a few fewer than there used to be.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


One of the most excellent things about teaching is learning from the students.  Even in such a situation as I am at my current institution, with students who are significantly academically disadvantaged, I learn things from the pupils in my charge.  It sometimes comes in the form of my learning more about sets of circumstances and backgrounds utterly alien to me; I grew up in a fairly "traditional" household in central Texas, so the experiences of my students on "the streets" and in other countries is far removed from my own upbringing.  Indeed, it sometimes makes it difficult for me to understand my students, their needs, and their concerns, which makes my job harder.

I hate that.

Sometimes, what my students teach me is less...fundamental, but fairly interesting.  For instance, there are times when my students respond to a regular assignment--say, the summaries that I require of my remedial English classes--with something that captures my attention.  This happened just this week; a student brought an article to my attention, I read it, and I found that I had something to say about it.

That article, Phillip Lopate's "The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt," appeared in the online New York Times on 16 February 2013.  In the article, Lopate asserts that the essay is in its traditional conception--from Montaigne forward--a means for expressing and grappling with doubt, rather than a means primarily to make and support a claim.  He does note that there are institutional pressures within schools that drive instruction away from the engagement with doubt in which a more traditional essay revels, but expresses concern over the tendency.  For Lopate, doubt is a necessary feature to growth, if for no other reason than that it frees a person to have bad ideas from time to time--the fear of which stifles thought.  The piece effectively speaks to some of the fundamental drives of essay-writing, such that it suggests itself as worthwhile reading for a college writing class.

Lopate confirms for me something which I have formally known for some time, and informally for longer.  Writing is an act of knowledge generation, rather than simply an act of reporting; even journalistic writing and technical writing, ostensibly devoted to conveying data about events and processes to interested readers, are involved in the creation of understanding.  What is newsworthy is determined by those who report the news, and how processes and analyses are conducted and ought to be conducted is mediated by those who discuss the processes and analyses no less than those who perform them.

Working to generate knowledge requires that there be in place a recognition that there is a piece of knowledge missing, somehow.  Without perceiving that there is something missing, there is no impetus to develop something to fill it.  And that perception is one fundamentally undergirded by doubt, a recognition by a person that he or she does not know something, that he or she is incomplete.  I tell my students that expressing the doubt and working through the process of resolving it, then expressing it on the page, is a good way to frame the kinds of writing I want them to do.  Too often, they do not heed the advice, and either try to discuss what they already know or slap together information found through hasty, cursory Internet searches (and then they wonder why their grades suffer).  Every so often, though, one of the will look at the surrounding world, find something not yet understood, and come to understand it a little better, putting the means by which understanding is attained on paper so that I, and maybe others, can read and ourselves come to understand.

That, I value greatly.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I am mulling over the idea of signing up for Google AdSense, a program that will (in theory) give me money in exchange for my hosting advertisements on my blog.  As I think on it, I am confronted by the sense that doing so would be "selling out" in some ways--but I find that it is not so simple as that. 

It is not the case that the space in which I compose my blog and the spaces in which I display it are not already wholly and thoroughly corporatized; I am already buying into and complicit in "the system" by the simple fact of generating blogging content, even as rarely as I do so.  And I am already, occasionally, making blog posts, so that it is not as if I would be stretching myself to get into the program--indeed, the idea that I might make a bit of money from time to time by doing what I am already doing may well prompt me to do more writing.  That would offer me more practice in generating content, which may well in turn lead to my being able to produce better materials--and improving as a writer is not a bad thing, I think.

I am also curious as to what kinds of ads would pop up and what they would reveal about my writing and the interests of those who read what I write.  I know that certain threads have popped up and continue to pop up in the writing I do for this blog; I have the post labels that I have for a reason.  At the moment, they include:
Some of the threads, admittedly, have not gotten a lot of attention from me recently (such as food).  Others are frequent targets of my writing.  All speak to me being preoccupied with my work in the classroom, currently as a full-time non-tenure-track instructor at a proprietary two-year technical college, and with the study of the academic humanities and "popular culture" (which term is not entirely accurate).  They would likely lead to ads for role-playing games such as Legend of the Five Rings and the archetypal Dungeons & Dragons appearing on the blog--and I would not mind that.  I have a long relationship with L5R, particularly, and I want the company to keep making products for me to use to play (I am not as fond of D&D, although I recognize its importance and have enjoyed playing it).  And academic programs and journals would be represented in force, as well, which I would also not mind; I have a vested interest, after all, in the promulgation of publications in academic research.

What else would pop up, though, and what would it say about my readers, however many of you there are?  It is a question worth considering, I think; I may have to give it some thought of my own, sometime when I have the time.

For now, though, I think I will be signing up for the program.  I might as well get a little something for what I am doing.

EDIT: Then I looked, and I realized that I'd not be able to post some of the things I've already posted...not happening.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Yes, I know that it is Valentine's Day.  I have already told mine that she is my Valentine--not that she needed the reminder.

This blog post is not about that.

It will be no secret to those few who read this blog with even as much regularity as I update it that I devote quite a bit of thought to my teaching.  The argument could even be made that I think about it too much, that I am wasting mental effort on something that is not my "real" work of humanities research--or that I am wasting my life on several things that do not matter ("Why do we need to teach this crap, anyway?  And what good is it to look at a poem like that?  Who cares?").

I am not going to address the issue of such arguments at the moment; I bring them up only to acknowledge their existence and use them as context for what I do want to discuss: a perhaps not so strange idea I had about my teaching.

One of the things that I tend to do in my classrooms is to bring in examples of the kinds of writing I want from my students.  In my remedial and developmental classes, I am obliged to explicitly teach expository modes such as description, narration, and contrast.  I therefore bring in passages from my own understanding of English-language literary canon and more mainstream publication that I find illustrate those modes.  In my more "normal" first-year composition classes, I bring in examples of short literary-critical essays, so that students can actually look at what one ought to look like, rather than trying to guess based on preconceived notions that are almost always wrong.

In my technical writing classes, I bring in examples of technical writing that I come across in my own (entirely too slow) readings.  Sometimes this is in the form of committee reports published in Profession, CCC, College English, and the like.  Sometimes it is in the form of reports and proposals I have had to do, although redacted--there are some things about which it is not appropriate for students to know...

One of the things that I hope to point out to the technical writing students with the examples is that technical writing ought to be clear and explicitly instructive.  It focuses primarily on the efficient transfer of information, rather than presenting knotty concepts that tease the reader to think through them or attempting to foster a specific range of aesthetic response (as much literary writing does).  And that means that it ideally supplements clear and lucid presentations of evidence, solid explanations of how that evidence functions, and an explanation of any unusual terms in it with clear graphics and paratextual features (subject headings and sub-headings, for instance) that guide reading effectively and facilitate quick reference.  Sentences will be of mixed length, usually simple in structure; parenthetical phrases and subordinate clauses are minimized.  Vocabulary will be of a somewhat but not fully formal register, with jargon in place but (in most cases) defined either upon first use or in a glossary at the end of the work.

It occurred to me as I was looking over materials for my play of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG that the gaming materials are themselves fine examples of technical writing.  The core book for the current edition of the game offers a fair bit of data--simple explanations of game-play mechanics and examples of the kind of narratives that drive the game*--with explications of game play and discussions of how the core rules interact with themselves.  Graphics abound, including art meant to impart understanding of cultural norms and mores and tables that neatly encapsulate the evidence that is described in detail in the text, and the information throughout is neatly divided by clearly distinguished hierarchical chapter and subject headings and sub-headings.  They join an extensive index in facilitating quick reference, and that index joins a substantial glossary that clarifies a great many terms that are unfamiliar to those newly approaching the game--the jargon of the RPG experience.

I have nursed the idea for some time that I ought to do some kind of paper on the topic (have I ruined my ability to do so by making this blog post?)--sometime, when I have time and the other projects I already have on deck are done.  But I had the thought within the past day or two that I might use the game as an example of technical writing for my classes.  I am already quite the nerd--who else would teach English?--so that I would risk little abrogation of my teacherly identity by bringing in such materials, and the example would serve to highlight the extent of the socio-cultural space which technical writing can occupy.

The only question I have, then, is about the manner in which the material would be received, both by students and my colleagues.  Would I be excluding students yet more by bringing in materials from a sub-culture which I occupy but which many if not most of those in my classroom do not?  Would my colleagues look at me (even more than many do now--"You're young; you'll feel like I do when you have some experience") as frivolous?  Should I worry about either?

I welcome the input of those of you who do look at this from time to time, however many you may be.

*I suppose that comments about this will be required at some point, but one of these per day is enough for me, I think.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I know that it has been some time since I posted to this blog.  Once again, I have been busy, although this time, it has not been so much with work (as it probably ought to have been).  Instead, I have been privileged to take part in an event sanctioned by a game which I have long played, Legend of the Five Rings.

That event has been the online Winter Court.  I have very much enjoyed getting to play, to contribute once again to the ongoing and evolving storyline of L5R; I have been able to do so before, once or twice.  Each time, it has been an honor; I have played L5R since my first semester of undergraduate study, approaching thirteen years ago, now, and to have had the opportunity several times to directly influence the guiding narrative of the is an excellent thing.

Although this will be a brief note, I wonder if I might be able to find time in and among the many things that I have going to run some kind of academic project from the proceedings...certainly, there is much to do with narrative and character development within it, and corpus analysis might actually turn up some intriguing ideas.