Saturday, March 23, 2013


What it says of me that what I am about to relate is wholly unusual for me, I can only guess.  Possibly, it means that I am pre-Bilbo Bagginsian: flabby, respectable, staid, and stodgy (and, yes, those are the right words; I looked to be sure*).

In any event, I was interrupted by the ringing of my doorbell as I was writing.  My lovely wife had gone out to watch a movie and spend time with a friend; the possibility occurred to me that she had returned and was carrying something that would prevent her from getting her keys easily, so I went to and opened the front door.  It was not my wife standing there, however, but a woman who, from the smell of her had been smoking prodigiously (and not just tobacco) and drinking in a bit more than moderation.

She was looking for the former residents of the apartment above the one I share with my wife, saying "The guys...upstairs...they have a dog."  I told her that they had moved out some months ago--which was completely true--and she looked disappointed for a moment.

Then, with a gleam of desperation in her eye, she asked after my marital status.  I told her--honestly, again--that I am happily married, and her look of disappointment returned.  "That's a shame," she said, "because I would have given you a bi-racial...well, three-quarter white, since...well."

I bade her a good evening and shut the door.

As I said, I am unsure what it says about me that I am unaccustomed to such things despite living in the part of Brooklyn in which I do; I ought to be inured to vice and the kind of self-degradation that prompts such behavior from living and working in New York City, and I am not exactly in one of the more prestigious parts of the best of the five boroughs.  I find that I am not sure what it says of me that the woman would have made a point of calling herself "three-quarters white" when making what seemed to me to be an offer of prostitutional services (which I declined, thank you very much; interpret that as you will).

And I find that I am not comfortable with what is says of me that I find myself judging the smoke-reeking woman as I am.  Given her actions and words, I am convinced that she is a prostitute--and I feel no small degree of revulsion at the idea.  Surely, I have shared space with sex workers male and female--hell, I used to work with one who had stripped all the way through her undergraduate career and was featured on Internet porn while we were in a graduate program together--and have not recoiled as I did this evening.  Is it simply an issue of my other experiences being away from my home and the one I relate being at my home, so that I am inclined (and appropriately) to be protective?  Or am I simply being more of a judgmental ass now, more curmudgeonly and less accepting of people's different life choices?  If it is the latter, is it a thing against which I ought to work?  Does my feeling as I do indicate that I am a bad person?

While having a hooker show up at the door is rare, asking such questions as her appearance prompted is entirely too common.

*Tolkien writes in The Hobbit that, before Bilbo, "you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him."  The online Oxford English Dictionary gives as definition 2 of stodgy "Dull, heavy; wanting in gaiety or brightness" and as definition 2d of staid "Characterized by or indicating sedateness."  All befit, I think.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


As I was puttering about a few mornings ago, I ran across this comic.  As someone who has worked in retail customer service and as a gamer, and perhaps as too much of an affective reader, I found myself in sympathy with the core message imparted by the cartoon: the realization of unimportance.

I suppose some context needs to be provided.

The term "NPC" in the comic derives from role-playing games and means "non-player character."  The term--and the thing labeled by it--exists only in its deviation from another thing--the player character or PC--and is thus necessarily and inherently devalued.  And it is true that the PCs in a role-playing game are the protagonists.  They are the primary characters of the stories told in role-playing games; the games are fundamentally about the PCs, with NPCs relegated to the roles of antagonists to be defeated--and servants to be exploited.

For the character in the comic to refer to himself as an NPC therefore is a recognition of abjection--and, again, having worked in retail customer service, I am aware that the job lends itself to that impression.  It is easy when one is a low-paid wage-worker to perceive one's self as abject, for corporations are uncaring for all save their profit margins, managers are out to ensure their own jobs, and customers are unwilling or unable to vent their spleen at those who can actually effect change--but they still vent it.  The work is devalued--it is not paid well, it tends to offer few benefits, and there is little job satisfaction to be had in working with customers who demand exaltation despite deserving far, far less than that.

More, though, is the thought of being an ancillary character in someone else's story.  It is easy to believe--and not only as a retail worker--that things are *really* about other people.  The stories of others are recorded and told to others, written in books and broadcast to televisions, projected on screens and seen through them on the internet.  Many of our own deeds are barely attended to, barely noticed, and then only by others who are in situations similar to our own--situations that escape the notice of those who are created for us as high and mighty, as exalted and deserving of attention and adulation.

I, too, am an NPC, and not usually the one who, as the antagonist, offers the conflict that drives narrative (although many of my students, no doubt, view me as formidable opposition to their desires).  No, I am the kind of NPC who exists to offer...something that the people about whom the stories are told can use to do what it is that they do that makes them worthy of narrative remembrance--if I am that lucky (I am probably more like the nameless, faceless NPCs who populate cities and towns in role-playing games, there for flavor and an attempt at verisimilitude but not having any information or items useful for the continuation of quests).

I have seen PCs, though, once or twice.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I have discussed some of the difficulties I have had in writing at times, such as this one.  I have continued to give the idea some thought, for even though I am doing a fair bit of writing on personal and professional projects, I do not feel as though I am doing enough (of either, really, but I feel more deficient in the latter than the former).  It occurs to me that I have not been spending as much time reading as I ought to be, and not taking in text has made it difficult for me to make new text.

The reading I have been doing has mostly been of academic journals--and I am a bit behind in doing so.  My usual reading time, I have noted, is during my commute to and from work; I try to put the otherwise idle time on the trains to use.  Recently, though, I have been doing so with sleep instead of study, and if I have indeed needed the sleep, I am suffering for the lack of study.

School might have ended for me last May, but learning, I hope, never does.

I have not been doing the kind of recreational reading that I used to do, however, and I think that that is the real deficiency.  For most of my life, reading has been the thing I do; the few who have known me for a long while know that I have most often been found with a book in my hand.  The apartment I share with my wife is full of books, with shelves overflowing with the things in our living room and in our bedroom.  While it is true that there are some duplicate volumes on the shelves--usually different editions, or pairs of gift/display copies and copies that actually get read*--they account for relatively few of the volumes my wife and I have acquired during our lives.  And, although we have nearly a thousand books on the shelves at the moment, there have been many others which we have owned, before or since we moved in together, that we no longer do.

Even I will occasionally get rid of a book, although that is increasingly rare an occurrence.

I have read most of what is on our shelves--really, there are only a few of my wife's scholarly books that I have not opened.  But I have not just sat down and read like I used to do in quite some time.  I have not found myself in my comfortable chair for hours upon hours, hardly moving except to turn page after page in a haze of textual delight, looking up only to realize that five or six hours have passed in what seems hardly so many heartbeats.  I miss it, and I think that my not spending that kind of time, reading with that kind of abandon, is making it harder for me to write.

I suppose I need to make the time to correct that error.  I doubt it will be easy, however; I have much to do, after all, and some of it needs doing fairly quickly.  But I am going to get it in where I can...when I can...

Monday, March 4, 2013


First off, Happy Sousa Day!  I look forward, too, to celebrating Star Wars Day in two months' time.

Second, and the actual reason that I am writing, has to do with church yesterday.  The Gospel reading was Luke 13:1-9, in which Christ relates the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree; a tree which has not yielded fruit in three years is promised that if it does not give forth fruit for a fourth year, after it has been tended and fertilized specifically to that end, it will be cut down.  He offers no explication of the story, but its meaning is clear; chances to grow are given, as is aid in the growing, but if they are not seized upon, the alternative is fire and ruin.  It is a message more common in the churches where I grew up than in the one I attend, admittedly, but it is present--and applicable.  In my teaching, for instance, I make resources available and offer to help students if they will but do the work and meet with me; all too often, I sit alone during my office hours, and students wonder why they do not pass my classes.

More to the point, however, the Gospel reading spurred interesting comments from the ministerial intern and the senior pastor.  Since the Scripture speaks of putting dung to a tree, the intern in her words of grace and liberation and the pastor in the sermon made more than passing mention of Gods fertilizing the soil of the soul.  And I found myself in mind of a piece of Puritan poetry I read during my graduate coursework, Edward Taylor's "Meditation 8."  In it, the narrator observes that "Gods Tender Bowells run / Out streams of Grace" (sic, ll. 15-16); the image is jarring from the pen of a Puritan, who was surely more devoutly religious than any of us fallen, hedonistic, immoral people can hope to be.  The idea of salvation being shat out upon us, of holy shit being instrumental to the redemption of sins...I remember provoking gales of laughter in the class.  I was certainly much amused by my recollection of it yesterday morning, even as it ticked my fancy to hear that even Christ compares Providence to manure.

Knowing that the Scripture, accordance with which supposedly keeps people pure and from thinking "nasty" thoughts, and that the Puritans, who are praised for their purity and derided for their rigidity, both run to the scatological is freeing, somehow.  If the traditionally most moralistic of Americans and the very document upon which they based their understanding of the world and their place in it both joke about poo, then surely I may safely do the same.