Saturday, August 31, 2013


Having resumed reading pieces from the New York Times the other day, largely because I once again have access to its online version, I decided to do a bit more such reading to support my ongoing writing on this blog and in other places.  That led me to Tyler Cowen's 31 August 2013 article, "Who Will Prosper in the New World," which had just released when I looked at it.

In the article, Prof. Cowen asserts that the increasingly automated and always-accessibly-online means of production and transmission will not benefit all persons equally, but certain groups will do particularly well.  Cowen lists the groups, explaining why and how each of those listed will find special benefit from the direction he sees matters going.  The article is reported as an adaptation of material from a book, Average is Over, and it is perhaps one with the adaptation that the explanations are not as detailed as they perhaps could be to be truly informative.

And there is a problem in the worldview that seems to underlie Prof. Cowen's assertions.  The article seems to take as given that the increasing mechanization of production of materials and information is a good thing; while I am happy to have access to diverse information and am on record as a supporter of work in the digital humanities (sometimes despite the words of far more senior scholars), I do not have quite so optimistic a view of the encroaching computerization of all things as Cowen seems to have.  Indeed, I view what he asserts as being good things as dehumanizing--and as a scholar of the humanities, I do not know that I can endorse those things that tend to the excision of what is human, and potentially some of the best parts of what it is to *be* human.

For instance, Cowen comments on online coursework, using Coursera as his example (I focus on his comments about teaching and about evaluating writing because they are areas in which I may claim some expertise).  While Cowen points out that the motivated will be those who benefit from such coursework, it may be argued that the presence of a professor in the classroom, of a living human being to whom one is accountable, does much to motivate people who might otherwise not be motivated and who, in finding such motivation, end up discovering a greater purpose for themselves than that of which they otherwise would have conceived.  And it is also the case that those who have already proven themselves to be good students find it difficult to maintain motivation in online courses.  Steven D. Krause reports himself as being one such in his contribution to the June 2013 issue of CCC.  Presumably, as someone who holds a professorship and was therefore good at the thing called school, and who describes himself as interested in the course for several reasons (689), he would be one of the more motivated participants.  Yet this was not the case; he reports that his interest wavered soon, and in large part because of the nature of the course itself (690-94).  The same was true for Jeff Rice, who notes that "Even with eagerness to learn about MOOCs by doing them, even with an overall interest in music [the subject of the course], and even with the minimal requirement of two to three paragraphs per writing assignment and relative ease of watching video lectures created in advance, [he] failed to follow through on the course" (699).  Again, someone with reasons to be motivated and a demonstrated past history of being a motivated student--for Rice is also among the professoriate--has difficulty maintaining motivation in the absence of actual human contact.  Rice asserts that it is a lack of emotional involvement that drove his failure in the class (702)--and physical presence and direct connection between people, such as that within a well-run traditional classroom, fosters emotional involvement in a way that no more remote medium can.  As Krause notes, "a textbook is not the same as a teacher," and education is not simply the provision of information (694); it is a series of interactions among people, and the removal of people makes those interactions less possible.  Cowen's assertion that we will have the best education ever available because of the ease of content delivery, that teaching will be better for being less human and more digitized, is therefore not entirely sound, and I must wonder if the rest of his statements are similarly suspect.

Perhaps it is because I have read as much science fiction as I have in my life that I have the opinions I have regarding the values and dangers of thinking devices.  I nearly cut my teeth on Asimov, and if I am going to be living in a world where the machines are doing most of the work of the mind, I want at the very least to see that those machines have something like the Three Laws, or their corollary Zeroth Law, built into them.  And even with them in place, one only need look to the Spacers to see what an overreliance on the machines will foster...

Works Cited
  • Cowen, Tyler. "Who Will Prosper in the New World." New York Times, 31 August 2013. Web. 31 August 2013.
  • Krause, Steven D. "MOOC Response about 'Listening to World Music.'" CCC 64.6 (June 2013): 689-95. Print.
  • Rice, Jeff. "What I Learned in MOOC." CCC 64.6 (June 2013): 695-703. Print.

Friday, August 30, 2013


In my current position, I share office space with a number of other people, a bullpen setup not unlike that I had early in my time as a graduate teaching assistant.  One of the benefits of such an arrangement is the openness of interchange it facilitates; everybody in the room is engaged in a similar enterprise, if with differences in focus, and the ability to easily bounce ideas off of one another leads to the development of yet other concepts that inform better teaching and research.  I, as a medievalist, can recommend approaches that another, a Shakespearean, would not have considered, and the Shakespearean can do the same for me.

Such a thing happened to me today.  I will not go into the details, as that would make it more difficult for both of us, but a colleague and I were batting around ideas about classroom practice and books old and new, and we both stumbled onto ideas for what might be excellent papers.  Finding out whether or not the ideas will work will take some doing, of course, looking first to see if others have already pursued the ideas we have, and then looking to see if we can draw the connections among texts that would allow us to make our intended declarations about the cultures that have been at work in the English-speaking world, thereby adding to the knowledge from which we can base yet other ideas about how the English-speaking world changes as time passes.

Having access to the kind of interchange that leads to fruitful discussion and potential avenues for the expansion of the field of human knowledge is not limited to academia, of course.  I have had many excellent talks with coworkers in many of the jobs I have held outside of schooling, and I have had many others with random people at bars and on trains.  But the scholarly world focuses attention on such things to a remarkable degree, and it affords access to a number of resources that are of great help in carrying it out.

I am glad to be part of it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


It has been a little while since I have read anything from the New York Times, including the opinion columns that have tended to attract my attention.  I remedied the lack in some small measure this morning, reading John Kaag's 24 June 2013 article "On Writing with Others" in the online version of the newspaper.

In the article, Kaag discusses the difficulties he faced in beginning to write explicitly collaboratively, going beyond referring to the writings of others and engaging in writing with others as co-author.  The difficulties inhere in writing as a professor of philosophy, he notes, as philosophers are trained to work as individuals and not in collaboration, as distinct from those in the academic sciences, who almost always author papers and books in groups.  Collaborative authorship, though, as with any collaboration, opens fruitful discussions that precede writing and publication, likely leading to better ideas and better-phrased ideas.  More importantly for Kaag, it guarantees that one other person will read what is written, validating the writing in a way that he and many of his colleagues have sought to be validated since childhood.  It is a useful statement on the value of including others in the writing process.

What Kaag says of philosophy can be extended to many of the academic humanities--many of those working in those fields of study are doctors of philosophy, after all.  In many such fields, such as my own literary studies, it is very much the case that the individual effort is what is prized and rewarded; I do not have the texts with me at the moment, so that I cannot refer to them in detail, but I recall a number of articles in Profession and other journals which wrestle with the question of how to evaluate collaborative scholarship in the humanities for purposes of tenure and promotion, which tells me that it is not common practice to write in groups, that doing so is something which is not particularly favored.  I and those like me tend to write alone, sequestering ourselves in offices and libraries, hiding away from the world in the oft-decried ivory tower, pursuing esoteric truths that reveal to those few who care to look some small slice of the nature of humanity hitherto unseen.

I have said, and many others have said, that a large part of the problem facing the academic humanities, a major factor in the common public disdain for them, is the lack of transparency in them.  That those of us working in them do retreat from the world, following the monastic origins of The Work in which we are engaged, allows others to ignore us or to ridicule us; in neither case are we present to be able to answer those accusations leveled at us, usually of irrelevance or inanity.  Kaag is correct, therefore, in asserting that "writing with others might be a first step in writing for others [emphasis mine]," that in writing together those of us in the academic humanities can begin to write in such a way that we not only say what it is that we mean to say, but do so in such a way that others are able to read it and happy to read it---as happy as they are to read anything, which is a different discussion altogether.

My saying so is hardly unique, of course, and my practice does not as much follow what I preach as it ought to do.  I have also said before that if I am a hypocrite, I am in good and abundant company.  If I and others could make of that company a group of collaborative writers, as those in rhetoric and composition seem to be beginning to do quite effectively (witness the increasing occurrence of collaboratively authored journal articles and scholarly books, as well as the increasing numbers of full-time, tenure-track jobs open in composition), we could do a fair bit of good in the world, helping to increase our mutual understanding of one another and presumably thereby opening avenues for the diminution of such conflicts as do so much harm to us all.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I know that today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered what is now one of the most famous pieces of oratory in human history.  I also know that other people much better qualified to discuss the event and its commemoration are doing so at great length; I need not add my voice to theirs, and I have my own matters to discuss:

One of the assignments that I am obliged to require of my students at Oklahoma State University is a literacy narrative, a piece in which students relate a moment of significance in their developments as reading persons and connect that moment to a broader socio-cultural context.  It is my usual practice to offer my students models of the kind of writing I want to see them do--my teaching blog is in large part taken up with such examples--and so I really ought to put together a literacy narrative for my students.  Certainly, those I have now deserve as much time and attention as those I once had, and I have discussed having more of it to give them (here, for instance).

Something stops me, though, namely that I have always had difficulty putting together literacy narratives.  I have made no secret of my training and my profession, of my calling, and being such a person as successfully pursues a doctorate in English makes of me the kind of person for whom the experience of literacy is not able to be disentangled from the workings of my life.  I know that there are many people--I would venture to say that it is true of most people--for whom reading is somehow separate from their "real" lives, for whom writing occurs seldom if at all, but I am not one of those people.  The opposite is more or less the truth of things for me.

To be able to identify a single moment of significance in my development as a reading person is not something that I can do well, therefore.  Or I thought so, but something occurred to me as I considered how I will proceed in the way I discharge my duties as a teacher.  An article from Profession, one I discuss at length in the first substantial post to this blog (more than three years ago, now), has continually cropped up in my academic writing, and even in much of my personal writing.  I have even referenced it in putting together proposals for research panels at conferences and in interviews for positions like that I now hold.  I think it safe to say that the article in question, Mark Edmundson's "Against Readings," has influenced my life as a reading person insofar as it has affected the way in which I do the work that I do--and my work is the work of a reading person almost entirely.

It is good to have come up with a topic, the way the article in question has affected me.  It is not, however, enough to move forward with the project of putting together an example essay for my students.  They are asked to generate some three to five full pages of material, some 950 to 1600 words in total, and simply announcing the way in which the text has affected me, lodging in my mind so as to serve as an initial point of reference for much of my academic discourse about reading, writing, and teaching, will not suffice to offer a developed model for their edification.  How that effect manifests, and what it means that it does so, needs to be explicated.

I have little right to ask my students to do a thing I cannot also do.  And if I have had difficulty in performing the task, then I can empathize with their challenges (at least in part), and in surmounting them, I can show them that they, too, can accomplish the goals laid out for them.

Now, to get them to set some goals of their own...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


One of the good things about my current position is that it does not have me scrambling to get to the office each day; I am only scheduled to teach on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  (I still usually go in, but at my ease and to be sure that I am ready to go for my classes.)  It is that convenience of schedule that potentially allows me to get research done.  It does allow me to get other writing done, such as I am doing now.  And it allows me to get errands run that I otherwise have quite a bit of struggle to do.

I know that the last will provoke little sympathy.  It is not intended to do so.  Rather, it is offered as an expression of my appreciation for the excellent situation I have--I know that I am fortunate to have it, and I know that others are not so lucky.  It is useful to retain such a perspective.

My scholarly work will be able to resume in earnest soon.  I happily received a package from home today, one in which my wonderful wife sent some of the materials from which I do my research and teaching.  While it is true that I have access to articles online thanks to my memberships in many scholarly organizations, and I have access to books through being affiliated with a university, I do much of the preliminary work of developing my ideas in marginalia.  The barely legible scrawling in the white spaces beside the texts of my journals and books is where my papers begin, and having access to them again makes it far easier for me to find and work on the many ideas that I think good, improving and expanding upon them so that other people will also think them good.

And that is good.

It might be asked why I spend my time hammering out a few hundred words here and there--on this blog, for example--when there are other things that I need to do.  Part of the answer is simply that I cannot work all the time, and this blog and some of my other writing serves as a means of relaxation for me, allowing me to return with renewed vigor to the research and teaching that have brought me where I am.  Another part of the answer is that I, like many others who work in the academic humanities, seek to reach a broader audience than just my colleagues while still discussing matters of some erudition in something resembling a serious fashion; this blog allows me a venue to do so.  And if it is the case that not every post is an explication of a poem or an attempt to negotiate theological principles, the sum total of the blog is an image of the life of a scholar--something which I am convinced that many people ill understand.

Promoting greater understanding works to the benefit of all, and that is a matter to which all of us ought to give attention.

Monday, August 26, 2013


One of the things that living for a time away from my beloved wife has done is force me to cook for myself, since Stillwater does not offer quite so many options for delivery that The City does, and I have not got the money to eat out all the time, anyway (although that seems not to be stopping me from doing it more often than I ought to...).  That has actually been a good thing for me, I think.  It keeps me busy in the morning and in the evening.  It makes me think ahead for the next day--since I have to let meat thaw out so that I can use it.  And it makes me pay more attention to my food.

Those who have seen me can guess that food is something with which I am quite concerned.  (Those who have seen me eat know to keep their hands clear of the loading area.)  But I had not paid much attention to what was in it or its provenance until relatively recently.  Cooking for myself has forced me to pay more attention yet to where my food comes from and what all is in it.  I know, for instance, that the peaches I bought at the on-campus farmer's market last week came from the school (and they are tasty, so I am inclined to buy more of the school's produce).  I know that the bratwurst that are in my freezer now (and which I will likely have before the week is done) are absent corn syrup, and that not all brats are so fortunate.  Having the knowledge and acting upon it are helping me to be healthier, I think; I am not perhaps getting as much exercise as I should (although I will be working on that soon), but I am eating better, and that is helping me not lose as much as I otherwise likely would.

I am also necessarily paying closer attention to portion sizes.  Cooking for one person is difficult, so I am cooking as if for two--but I am making two meals out of what I thus cook.  One decently-sized chicken breast, for instance, feeds me for dinner one night and as part of breakfast the next.  Or, when I cook bratwurst, I eat some with rice in the evening and some with eggs in the morning (and some dark bread, which goes so well with it).  There is something nice in having leftovers as part of a hot breakfast the next day--heck, there is something about having a hot breakfast that I am enjoying greatly.

Living in The City, with the frenetic hustle of getting from home to work and back, I did not often have the opportunity to eat a decent meal in the morning.  Usually, I would eat a bagel or a granola bar while walking to the subway station, and hot breakfasts were luxuries for the occasional lazy day that I did not sleep in too late to be able to afford to take the time to cook eggs and other things.  Stillwater has helped me to be able to eat better in the mornings, to slow down with my food.  I enjoy it more, certainly, and I cannot help but think that I am doing better with my food as a result, as well.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The day is done.
The week is done.
The stacks of papers are graded.
The email is answered.
The students are either satisfied
Or they do not care,
And I am well off either way.

I am the last one in the building,
I think.
I hear nobody else.
No other conversations echo through the halls.

There is something special
In being the only one in the building,
Writing as a Friday moves toward evening
And people move to go
On the town
To see one another
To enjoy themselves
To enjoy each other
And maybe it is depressing that I do not

Or maybe it means that I already have what I need
That I need not go out from myself to find something worthwhile
That I am in such possession of myself that I can focus on
What needs doing.

There is always more that needs doing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


As I was walking about the campus today, going to the office to take care of the stacks of grading that I had allowed to pile up (the first week of classes is not done, and already, my grading has begun to pile up--if it can be called grading when I write in annoyingly pink ink and do not assign grades to the student writing upon which I comment), it occurred to me that there is something of a campus uniform for the students as the fall 2013 term gets underway at Oklahoma State University.  The young women overwhelmingly wear brightly colored tank tops (that reveal equally brightly and usually contrastingly colored sports bras) and track shorts.  The young men tend to wear brightly colored t-shirts, shorts, and ball caps.  In something of an old-man moment, I thought that my undergraduate days did not see such things.  Then I realized that they probably did, but that I was too involved in my own concerns to really notice.

(Before any of you say it, I know that I am married, and I know that the undergraduates running around campus would be entirely too young for me even were I a bachelor by something other than a degree I have long since held.  I love my wife, but that does not mean that I do not notice what is around me, especially since, as I write, it is brightly colored.)

It was not the only old-man moment I had today.  I looked in the mirror this morning and was startled by the amount of white--not gray, but stark white--hairs in my beard and moustache.  I have known about the encroachment for some time, but for some reason, it startled me today, and it reminded me that I am not quite a young man anymore, despite once again being the youngest person in my shared office.  (I want to think that there is a poem in there somewhere, but it has probably already been written, and better than I have it in me to write, if my verse is any example.)

There is a certain strangeness to a man in his early thirties regarding himself as old.  It is not entirely accurate, admittedly; centenarians are increasingly frequent, and even in my own family, there are a number of people in their mid-eighties and older, so that I have reason to expect that I will be around for a while, yet.  And my body works well, aside from occasional stiffness of certain joints and my own ineptitude, so that I have not even that concern.  Only more gray hairs on my upper lip than my beloved wife--six years my senior--has in total, and the nagging suspicion that my students increasingly have no idea what I am talking about.

Eighteen years ago was 1995.  Twenty-two was 1991.  I remember getting beaten up in years my students have never seen.  And that does, in fact, make me feel old.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I am continuing to settle into my new teaching gig at Oklahoma State University, meeting today for the second time with the four classes I am assigned for the fall term.  Each had a diagnostic writing exercise to go through, and so I ended up with close to eighty papers to review and from which to distill comments and major issues in need of correction.  A quarter of them are done now, and the remaining three-quarters are on the docket for tomorrow.  It should be a busy day and productive.

The experience of being back on a college campus, this time among the professoriate rather than as a wide-eyed, too-young undergraduate or a too-much inebriated, too-much hidden away graduate student, is proving to be in some ways quite melancholy.  I am not so long past being a student that I have forgotten it and its allure (although I admit that I did not recognize it nearly enough when I was an undergraduate).  Seeing so much available to so many and seeing them take advantage of it as I did not, and now cannot, is at once good to see and saddening.  I wasted a great many opportunities in years not quite so long ago, and I cannot help but consider that I allowed myself to be diminished thereby.  I wonder how much I am like a certain blue-suited Lieutenant, Junior Grade, on the starship Enterprise, and I wonder if there is somewhere, somewhen, a red-suited version of me of much higher rank and much more impact.

But then I look at what and where I am now, and at what I have had the privilege to enjoy as a result of the choices I have made, and the melancholy is greatly lessened.  I am in a good position and am poised to improve upon it.  I have worthwhile work to do and the training to do it well.  I have an excellent and supportive family, and an amazing wife who loves me dearly and to whom I can devote myself worthily and in confidence.  And I have not lost much if anything in achieving them for which I have not been more than abundantly compensated--which is not the case for many.  That certain officer only enjoyed his own position as a result of being stabbed through the heart, after all, and I have been fortunate in that I have not had to learn my lessons through quite that...pointed...a tutorial method.

I do not apologize for not being able to resist the pun.

There is also this to consider: I am not so firmly scripted as are the commanders of starships.  I will not go far as to say there is no directorial staff overseeing the performance in which I am engaged--I have written of myself as playing a part before--but, being Methodist, I do not think that all of my lines are pre-determined and my actions blocked out.  I have much room to improvise and a much larger stage in which to do that improvisation.  And, as I am both performer and audience, I necessarily see much that cameras turned to other places miss.

The difference in medium accounts for much.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


It has been a while, it seems, and it has been quite a busy while.  Since I last posted, I have moved from the urban crush of The City to the open plains town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, where stands Oklahoma State University, and I have taken up my duties as Visiting Assistant Professor of English there.  I know that I have written a fair bit about doing this very thing, but I also know that there is a substantial difference between writing about a thing in anticipation of it and actually doing the thing.

And it is not completely done yet.

My beloved wife is working hard to tie up the many loose ends I was obliged to leave because of the timing of the new job starting versus that of the old job ending.  She also, to my shame, has to tie up ends that I was not obliged to leave, but left anyway--I am not always the best of people, as I well know and as many of you who read this can guess.  It is fortunate that she is so marvelous as she is (but I said such things before moving, and not always where she could hear them).

While she finishes things in The City, I am getting things well and truly started in this place where the winds are amply be-sung.  On an earlier trip, I was able to find a place to move into (a little place my most excellent wife and I have taken to calling Sherwood Cottage), and now that I am moved into it, there is the work of getting it set to rights to do.  I have the distinct impression that it sat empty for a while before I took possession of it, and I think its previous inhabitants were not wholly kind to it. 

Cleaning it and making it fit to receive my wife is going well enough,  but it is having to go amidst my preparation for my teaching duties.  Those are less than I have had in the past; I only have four sections, two each of first-year composition and technical writing.  Each is smaller than I am used to having, too, and that means I am able to spend more time with individual students and more time focusing on how best to teach them.  This bodes well for my ability to do the work that I am to do in the classroom.

It also bodes well for what I have to do outside of the classroom.  While teaching in The City, despite the demanding course load, I was able to put together pieces for presentations and the occasional submission for print publication.  Now, given that my teaching load is reduced and my commute is also far less (and of better exercise!), I ought to be able to give more time to doing the scholarship for which I am trained and which I view as necessary to make me better in the classroom.

I know that it is affording me more time to read for the sake and pleasure of reading than I have been accustomed to having.  I am taking the opportunity to catch up on some things that I had left slip--I am in the midst of reading Don Quixote, which somehow escaped my attention these many years.  It is good to be able to correct some mistakes...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I wrote
In a blog
That "I feel strangely Whitmanesque."
I am forced to wonder
If there is any other way to feel
Than strangely.
For as the poet
Celebrates and sings himself,
His melody shifts in scale and intonation,
His rhythm changing from measure to measure
And neither lends itself to the normal,
The placid,
The expected,
The comfortable.
My own writing does the same.
Even now, I follow no clear meter,
But veer arrhythmically
From line to line.
I may do better about sticking to one theme, though,
Despite failing in variations on it.
I never was that good a musician.
Fortunately, there are other arts.

Monday, August 5, 2013


In a gathering with most excellent friends this past Saturday evening, the question of "What makes a home a home?" came up.  It is one that I have been contemplating throughout the process of packing in preparation for my move to Oklahoma.  I can make some motion towards an answer for it, using that motion then to inform my understanding of some of the other things that have been going on as my beloved wife and I make to leave the place we have lived these past four years.

Home is not simply--or only--a place where people dwell.  It is a place where they make external what they are able to perceive and re/construct of their interior selves.  It is an expression of self and in some sense an extension of self.

Certainly, this has been true of me.  So long as I have had my own space--whether a bedroom, a dorm room, an office cubicle, a corner office with a window, or an apartment shared with a wonderful wife--I have worked to create it such that it reflects my desires and needs.  In making those reflections present in the physical world, I have in effect extended my consciousness to fill my space.  It is that extension which has often allowed me to reach behind me to pull books or journals from shelves, accurately retrieving the desired volume or issue without needing to look at what I am doing.  It is that extension which has often allowed me to know at a glance or at the simple feel of the room what is in place and out of place, what belongs and what does not belong.  I know my space as well as I know myself, and if there are some things that I do not know about either, the same is true for all in large measure--and I think myself justified in saying that I know mine better than most.

Perhaps it is because I have so long made of my space an extension of myself, a mimesis of me that functions as a part of me, that I am reacting so poorly as I am to packing up and moving.  I have not necessarily handled well the stresses of putting my life into boxes so that it can be packed into containers and driven across the country by people I have never seen and will never know.  If it is the case that my space and the things with which I have filled it to make it mine and me are in fact reflections of me, functionally part of me, then in packing, I am doing something akin to amputating parts of myself from myself.  It is understandable, then, that I am reacting as I am, jerking involuntarily and seeking something with which to anaesthetize myself against what I am doing to myself.

(I confess that I feel strangely Whitmanesque in this post.  And I know that in applying the kinds of discussions I have seen in some literary theory texts, I am perhaps alienating some of those who read what I write here.  My writing, too, is an expression of me, and my training and talents are not unknown.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013


My beloved wife and I went to church this morning, as is not inappropriate.  There, amid taking communion and enjoying a sermon from Bishop Alfred Johnson of the United Methodist Church of the Village, she and I were singled out by the associate pastor, Rev. Vicki Flippin.  Our impending departure has not been kept secret from our fellow congregants, and there was a very nice card sent around the week before, one which many people signed.  It seems that my wife and I have had an impact on that faith community (it has certainly had one on us!), and we will be missed.

It is flattering to know that we will be missed, that our absence will be felt as a loss by those people with whom we have shared worship and, often, hospitality over the years we have lived in The City together.  There have been many times, some of which I have likely noted, that I have felt disconnected from things and unvalued; my wife reports having felt similarly from time to time.  But at the Church of the Village, we have always been welcomed, even when our opinions have disagreed with those of more senior congregants and the clergy.  The people there have made an effort these past years to include us, to bring us in, to demonstrate that they value our contributions and even our simple presence.

I have noted that there are a great many things which I will not miss about life in The City (and I have a piece in the works, meant for another venue than this one, which will treat some of them).  There are, however, a great many things that it will grieve me to leave.  The Church of the Village is one of them.  It is through the pastors and congregation of that church that I returned to the faith of my family after having been away from it for a long time (for reasons I have discussed before, if in another medium), and my faith and my faith community have been of comfort to me, particularly at the end of last year and the beginning of this one.

It will not be easy, I think, to find such a place of worship, one that is so welcoming and inviting, where I am going.  Those whom I know who live in the area, who have lived long in the area, have remarked to me about such things, and neither I nor my people come from places dissimilar from that to which I am going--and I see quite a bit of intolerance even now in the hometown of my childhood.  (To be fair, there is a lot of the same in The City, and openly expressed despite the protestations of many that the place does not suffer such lights as racism and idiocy.)  But I have the hope that I can do as Rev. Flippin suggests in the card and "take some CotV with [me] to spread in the plains of OK."

I have the hope that I will be able to make a place where I belong once again.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Herein, I return to the issue of the bookmark I have mentioned in passing once or twice.  In the earlier post, I mention having misplaced a particular bookmark.  Nearly two months since later, amidst packing things for the upcoming move, I have found it again, and I am glad to have done so.

The bookmark itself is an older one and in disrepair.  Its laminated glossy cardstock, carrying an image of Michael Whelan's illustration for the cover of Melanie Rawn's Sunrunner's Fire, is cracking and has been taped together repeatedly.  The red threads of the tassel that once topped it have long since fallen away, with only the small tether that once held them to the marker remaining threaded through the hole I have had to piece back into place time and again (and will likely need to yet again before long).  The lamination itself is peeling apart, and the printed words on the back of the mark are fading.

Even so, I have no intention of discarding it, for that bookmark and I have a long history.  It was a gift to me from my grandmother, herself an avid reader, when I was twelve or so.  At the time, I was heavily engaged in reading, not just comic books and what might as well have been pulp novels, but classic works of science fiction (particularly Asimov) and fantasy literature (especially Tolkien), and even the "great" works of the English-language literary canon; it was not too much later that I was given my first copies of Beowulf, Paradise Lost, and The Divine Comedy (texts I still have, in fact).  I was then in the habit of dog-earing my books when I remembered to put them down, and I would often fall asleep with book in hand, creasing the pages and losing my place as I lost my wakefulness and fell into a sleep whose dreams were never much recalled.

The bookmark was a welcome change.  I had just begun to understand the value of the book not merely as a vehicle for the carrying of text, but as an object worth valuing in its own right, and I began to realize that turning the pages on themselves as I had been doing did much to reduce that value.  Being able to keep my place without inflicting such upon what were for several reasons becoming my most treasured possessions thrilled me.  Being able to do so with something that itself looked to be a piece of artwork--Whelan's technique is admirable now, and to my pre-teen eyes, it was astounding--was itself a thrill.

Looking back, it seems to me now that having the bookmark meant I had become a more serious reader.  Not only did I have the books themselves, but I had materials to help me read the books--tools to make me better at reading.  I grew up among tradesfolk and artisans, masters of crafts and disciplines, and I knew that a large part of mastery was having the right equipment and the understanding of how and when to use it.  The bookmark was a piece of that for me, an outward and visible sign that I had grown more masterful in my ability to recognize and interpret words on a page.

I have other such signs, now, and much more powerful and widely recognized.  I take pride in them, perhaps more than I ought.  But I am still pleased to have found my old, good bookmark once again.