Monday, September 30, 2013

20130930.0634

With the end of the month has come a paycheck, and that means that the day is already much improved.  I have been worried about money, as could be imagined; the move was draining to the household finances, and with a new member joining the household soon, the budget that was doing decently well for two people will need to be refigured.  My loving wife is looking for work, herself, but I am aware of the relative tightness of the job market--a tightness increased for those who have graduate degrees and are looking for work outside of the regular times.  For she arrived here too late to pick up any adjunct teaching (not that that pays terribly well), and given when our child is due, next semester is not looking good for her, either.

There do seem to be problems for her, and those like her, in finding work outside of academia.  She worries, and my own earlier job hunt has shown me why, that having multiple graduate degrees makes her look...odd...when she seeks more "normal" employment than standing in front of a classroom.  Despite the fact that having graduate degrees bespeaks a degree of focus and loyalty, as well as attention to detail and the ability to process vast amounts of information reliably and accurately, many people do not want to hire the more formally educated.  And it is not an issue of seeking "high-powered" jobs, necessarily.  I was looking for beginning writing and editing positions.  My wife sought--and did not get--receptionist jobs, and has applications filled out for retail work.  Yet callbacks are few, despite the search and the breadth of work sought.

I have been fortunate.  My current position may not be high-powered (or highly paid), but it offers regular hours and benefits (which are coming in quite handy now, I might add).  It is not a continuing line job, but it does offer me a base from which to seek such jobs--and I have, I think, a strong possibility of renewal (I was observed recently, and the observer seems to have been pleased with the way I do things, which will surely help), provide funding remains available.  I do not discount this.  But I am also aware that not all are so lucky in that regard, and it is not from a lack of willingness to work, and it is not from overweening pride and a refusal to take available jobs (for the most part; I cannot fault someone for avoiding certain work in the light of certain medical situations or religious proscriptions).  And if it is the case that the entrepreneurial route is available--what is the rate of failure for new businesses?

There are more applications to fill out, more letters to send out, and more positions to search out.  People are hiring, or they will be soon, and it remains only to find them at the right time.  With luck, one of the blasted things will give us a single, happy word: yes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

20130929.1939

I have tried to put together a blog post several times today.  Each time, I have found myself stymied by the task--which annoys me, since I so often start my days with a brief note on this blog.  That I would have trouble writing one when fully awake and aware, as opposed to when I am still working to get caffeinated, confuses vexingly.  If anything, it ought to be the other way around.

As I think on it though, I am minded of the implications for my teaching.  I spent a fair bit of time today grading papers instead of being outside and enjoying the wonderful weather that the Stillwater autumn has been offering (and I am happy to have two classes of my four taken care of, for I have yet a fair bit to do before heading to New Orleans for my next conference).  As I read over my students' writing, I was, typically, somewhat...miffed...at some of what I saw in the pieces I was reviewing (I do my students to favor of looking at drafts before the full versions of assignments are done; whether it helps or not, I do not know but I am at least trying to make things better for them).  But now, as I think back over my attempts to put together a brief blog piece today, it occurs to me that the challenges I face in putting together words are likely magnified greatly for my students, who do not have the benefit of my theoretically greater experience and exacting and magnificent training (and I do thank my professors for their time, attention, and indulgence).

I am not able to adjust my evaluations to reflect the revelation, of course.  I had sent my comments back to the students before I started this bit of writing, for one.  For another, I evaluate the work submitted to me rather than the workers; however I may feel about the people, my job is to treat the writing they submit to me, and whatever circumstances lead to its quality, I can only address the quality.  And that has not always been good, certainly not as good as I know most of them can produce.

I can, however, adjust my attitude to reflect the revelation, and that will impact the teaching which will, with luck and the efforts of the students (one cannot lead those who will not follow, and "education" means "leading out"), result in better writing--and better thinking that underlies it.  How I can parlay my experience in having some difficulty putting words in order to help students address their own difficulties in that regard, I have yet to figure out, but I think that I will be able to do so--someday.  I do not think I am there yet; I do not think I am yet that good at the front of the room, although I am continuing to work to improve.  With luck, I will have time to do so, and I can be of some help to my students in the meantime.

Maybe.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

20130928.1048

It has been a while since I explicitly commented on political matters in the sense of "political" as "having to do with Washington, D.C., policymakers and their antics."  It may be a while before I do so again.  But I feel the need to do so now, because I am honestly and frankly worried about the possibility of another government shutdown in my lifetime.

I remember the one during the Clinton administration.  I remember being a child in my parents' house on the outskirts of a Texas Hill Country town and watching the shutdown loom larger.  And I remember being quite worried, for then as now, the majority of my parents' household income came from my dad's paycheck--and he worked for the VA Hospital.  I suppose some people could say that he needed to be working a "real" job in the private sector, one where he was not sucking at the public teat and draining tax dollars collected unjustly and in too great a number from private enterprise--because of course all federal employees work for the government because they are not competent to work anywhere else.

A sarcasm font would be helpful.

Dad still works for the VA, and while neither of his kids are at home anymore, I imagine he is still not thrilled about the prospect of his paycheck being switched off again--and possibly not restarted, if something I heard on the radio as I was buying food yesterday is correct.  And now I work for a state agency, one that receives a fair bit of funding from federal money--yes, yes, I, too, am sucking at the government teat, draining away the hard-earned money of real Americans so that I cam cavort without oversight in the ivory tower and undermine the beliefs of the youth in what the Founding Fathers in their infinite and undying wisdom intended for the US to be.

While I am insulated by several layers of bureaucracy and governmental division from the sources of the shutdown problem, the possibility remains that my paycheck will be inhibited by the shutdown, if (more likely when) it happens.  And I am not the only one who depends on that paycheck at the moment...

I have not, so far as I know, been in Oklahoma long enough to establish residency or be eligible to vote (if any of you know, please tell me).  But that does not mean that I am not paying attention to who is doing what in the lead-up to the shutdown--and my memory is long.

Friday, September 27, 2013

20130927.0626

This time next week, I will be in New Orleans. Louisiana, for the 2013 South Central Modern Language Association (SCMLA) conference.  There, I will be presiding over the two panels allocated to Old and Middle English, and I hope to attend one or two other panels that are of some interest to me.  At this point, my beloved wife plans to join me on the little trip--so those who will be in the area and want to stop on by are welcome.  I'm sure we can figure out something to do to entertain ourselves without putting the pending little one in too much danger.

I tend to look forward to conferences.  In past years, I have not had as much time among working scholars as I would like (it is true that things are better now), and trips to conferences such as SCMLA have afforded me the opportunity to be back among my own people again (I am still going to go to conferences even though matters are improved).  Too, because SCMLA is relatively broad in its treatment, it allows me the chance to sit in on panels whose topics are unfamiliar to me and from which I can therefore learn much.  My coursework as a graduate student was markedly generalist, and my research continues to reflect a degree of openness in its repeated return to treatment of appropriation and refiguring.  SCMLA helps me to be able to do so, offering me access to ideas and resources I would not otherwise have considered--or even been able to consider.

There is this, too: I have friends (shocking, I know), some of whom I only see at conferences.  The International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo is remarkable for it; each year, I meet new and amazingly interesting people there, and each year I reconnect with others whose awesomeness I encountered in previous years, furthering relationships that produce new insight and damned good times.  SCMLA is not as intense an experience as the Congress--the broader focus prevents it--but the variety of locations allows it to offer more in the way of interesting times outside of planned events, and there are people whom I tend to see again only at SCMLA.  Having access to the other interesting things makes the re-encounters all the better.

Because I will be out, it will be the case that my blogging will slow down a bit.  I have been making an effort to make a post of around 500 words each day, and while I have not been as successful as I should like, I have been getting better about it.  The past couple of weeks have demonstrated it, and I am looking to continue as much as I can.  I am like to come back from the trip with a report on my activities--and I am already planning to propose a special session for the 2014 SCMLA conference in Austin, Texas.  If you know that you have something to say about fighting words, get it ready to go and let me know; I have had good luck getting on the card so far...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

20130926.0954

It might be guessed from the fact that I work as a scholar of English language and literature that I spend much of my time on my butt--and such a guess would be accurate.  Planning for lessons, grading papers, reading books and journals to stay abreast of developments in my field (which I need to do a bit more than I have of late), and writing, writing, writing all have me planted firmly in a chair, often for ours on end.  That my butt is, by several reports, fairly bony complicates matters.  Accordingly, the quality and comfort of the chairs I use are concerns.

One of them is an older chair, a chair with a wide seat artificially narrowed by the construction of the chair-back.  Sitting in it pinches my butt a bit, creating a discomfort that forces me to shift around frequently.  In doing that, I find that I put uncomfortable amounts of pressure on the bones in my ass, both hip-bones and coccyx.  The chair literally becomes a pain in the ass for me--a circumstance I cannot help but find funny to discuss even as it annoys me to endure.

It has not always been the case that I have had to endure bad chairs.  One I have owned I purchased for the immense sum of ten American dollars when I was twelve or so; it was a rocking chair from a local thrift shop.  The spring at the back of the rocking mechanism was broken, so it would lean back to a precarious and eminently comfortable angle, cupping me as I sank into its brown velvet upholstery for hours of reading--and some other things that I perhaps ought not to discuss too openly (I was twelve when I bought the thing).

I got ten years out of the chair before I moved to Louisiana to begin my graduate work.  It stayed around the house for a while after, and my parents "fixed" the spring so that it would not lean so far back.  But, as all of us got older and things changed, the chair finally fatigued out and was discarded.  Too, none of us had room to keep it; my parents had their own furniture, and although my dorm room was large, it also had to handle my needs as a graduate student--and that meant it could not take the wonderfully comfortable chair.

I am sure that there is some metaphor in this somewhere, some tacit statement about the nature of the world and of humanity's place within it, or else one about my place within humanity and therefore also that of the populations of which I partake.  Indeed, I can think of one or two without any trouble.  But I am not going to trace them out--at least, not now.  Doing so would do no good, for me or for anybody.  And my ass is starting to hurt.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

20130925.0649

Yesterday saw me go through the process of selecting a textbook to use for a class I have been assigned to teach in the spring.  It had been some time since I had had the opportunity to do so, as my previous institution did not offer much flexibility in its textbook selection, and it was a bit frantic a search, but I got done what needed to get done.  I am relatively happy with the text I chose; it ought to offer my students and me more options for getting done the work I tentatively plan to have the class do.

As I worked (quickly) through selecting a text, the issue of editions came to mind.  In many cases, students, and the section of the general public they represent, come into classes thinking that there is one text, unitary and inviolate.  The words (which are to be read minimally if at all) are the words, period.

This is, of course, not true.

I have expressed to students before that in many cases, the words that are made available for reading go through several people before being read.  The writer has to write them, of course, and there are many occasions in which the writer is able to submit those words to general view without other interference (this blog, for example).  And while there is some value in offering the minimally-mediated insight into the writerly persona, there are also problems; we are all of us myopic in one way or another, letting slip things that other eyes would catch and making ourselves look just a little less intelligent thereby.  Thus the presence in professional writing of editors, reviewers, proofreaders, and publishers, each of whom alters or adjusts the text in some way.  Each alteration, following both McLuhan and McGann, changes the way in which the text can be read, however slightly.

An easy example, and one that has come up with my students in the past, is that of the Christian Bible.  I have on my shelves at this very moment several copies of the text, at least three of which label themselves as the King James Version; one of them is the Oxford UP Quatercentenary Edition of the 1611 printing, and the other two are commonly available at bookstores.  The words are not the same among the three.  Even the contents are not the same; the 1611 text includes entire books that the later editions omit entirely.  Which one, then, is the "authentic" text, the "real" one, is subject to an interpretation that has to include things beyond the words themselves.  At root, the text is not the text; it is a text, and there are others in competition with it.

If such is true for what is supposed to be the Eternal and Revealed Word of God, how much more true is it like to be for works that have no such lofty pretentions?  Surely the words of mere mortals cannot be expected to have the same power as those meant by the Almighty as the One True Way of life--yet even the text of Scripture is contested (and hotly, as it has been for seventeen hundred years and more).  That other, presumably lesser, texts then go through and exist in multiple editions, multiple competing versions of relatively equal validity, is not to be wondered at.  And this is why I get to select textbooks as I do.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

20130924.0829

A piece of news broke for me and mine yesterday--namely that there will soon be another of "mine" in the world.  I am to be a father.

My beloved wife and I greatly appreciate the many well-wishes we have received from people spread across the planet (I mean that; I have had congratulatory bits from as far away from Stillwater as Germany, Indonesia, Romania, and Israel).  It is flattering to know that we are kept favorably in mind by many people, and we hope that we--and the little one to come--will continue to merit such regard.

I confess that I had been worried that such a thing would never come to be.  It is not as if my wife and I had not been offering many chances for it to happen, but with stress from work (and its lack, as those who have read this with anything approaching regularity know) and other factors...Indeed, some comments had been made within the family that my wife and I might not be able to conceive, which was hardly politic although, given circumstances, perhaps to be expected.  But those comments are wrong, as we know now, and the work to make ready for the coming child will begin in earnest.  I will doubtlessly be boring many people with my descriptions of it in the days to come...

Monday, September 23, 2013

20130923.0634

I have commented before about being a morning person, about enjoying the quiet before the day gets started.  There is another thing to consider than simply the quiet, or the coolness that is increasingly available at this time of day, in favor of morning activities: I work better in the morning than later.  It is as if I have a cut-off point each day, after which I am markedly less effective than I would prefer to be.  It seems to matter little how much I have slept before, how early or late I went to bed; what matters is when I get going, and the earlier I do, the more I get done.

Perhaps it is an artifact of my having had early-rising parents.  For many years, my mother worked in grocery stores, and she often needed to be at work at four or five in the morning to get done what needed doing for the stores to open at six.  My father was for no short time a service technician for air conditioning companies in the Texas Hill Country, and in the summers (which last long there, whatever the axial tilt may say of the season), he would often work from before dawn to after sundown to get done all of the work there was for him to do.  That their practices influenced me is not to be wondered at, really; it was normal for me to not see Mom in the mornings and Dad ready for work in the dark before dawn, and early normalcy often resurfaces after teenage idiocy ends (not that it ever ends for many or completely ends for any).

My own experiences have reinforced what my parents taught me (in this and many other ways).  In middle school and high school, I would work with my late great uncle on electrical jobs during the summers, and I learned then that it is good to get the most done during the morning hours, before the real heat of the day could happen.  In college, I earned my pay making and delivering pizza, usually working the morning shifts on the weekends.  I was the only driver until four or five in the evening, so mine alone was the money to be had from football game orders on Saturdays and Sundays, and the money was quite good (indeed, I think I could have made more as a full-time driver then than I am at the moment, though there were other costs to be paid for doing that job, and I have better benefits now by far).

In college also, I sat for early classes.  In doing so, not only did I clear my afternoons and evenings for work, but I presented myself as a fixture of the campus, something that my undergraduate professors doubtlessly noticed and which may well have induced them to my cause when I applied for graduate school--where I continued to be one of the early birds.  Then, as now, I exploited the quiet of the morning to get things done.  Then, as now, I got more done because I got started early.  And now, if I am not at work before noon, I might as well not bother; the work will not be as good, and I will not get as much done as I ought to do.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

20130922.1908

On this autumnal equinox, the weather in Stillwater, Oklahoma, has decided to reflect the new season.  It was warm, yes, but not hot--not by a wide margin--and the morning was pleasantly cool, indeed.

I did not get to enjoy as much of it as I perhaps ought to have done.  Instead, I spent a fair bit of the day grading, which is far and away the worst part of teaching--and in some senses not really part of it.  Grading is simply the assessment of student performance; student performance is not quite so connected to the in/ability of the teacher as many would like to pretend.  I--and many others--had bad teachers who never issued a low grade, and I--and many others--had and have excellent teachers who never offer formal evaluation, never issue a grade.

While I do not like grading per se, I do enjoy the opportunity to read some of what my students write.  From time to time, amid the vague responses (something like "It was just so great a thing that I saw once"), worn clich├ęs ("Needless to say"), attempts to "sound smart" ("The acquisition of literacy denotes a hallmark of my prepubescent interactions with institutionalized educational programmatic structures"), and...strange...ideas, things stand out that are well worth attention.  Sometimes, they are simply funny statements, made so by their abruptness and deviation from expectation; one student opened with a comment about eating donuts.  Sometimes, they are thought-provoking, and in a way that the student may well have intended rather than of such thoughts as "What was this person thinking?"

Things would be better were the option available to simply read and respond, rather than having to read and critique.  Then again, given how rarely students read the corrective comments that they know others will make, how much use they would get from the critique is uncertain...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

20130921.1018

While enjoying a cup of coffee and reading over the news in the internet, as is usual for me on a Saturday morning when I have access to the web, I ran across Matt Hamilton's 21 September 2013 article in the online LA Times, "Kansas Professor Put on Leave after Tweet Blaming NRA for DC Shooting."  The article notes that the University of Kansas chancellor decided to place journalism professor David Guth on administrative leave in the interest of maintaining an undisrupted learning environment for students.  It also cites a number of condemnations of Guth by his colleagues and others, ranging from disavowals of implied violence to calls for his termination.  Hamilton does note that the comments sparking actions against Guth appeared on Twitter and on Guth's personal blog, although his stance has softened since the administrative leave was enforced upon him.

There are many problems with this.  Not least of these is the chilling effect that silencing any speech has upon the freedom to give voice to opinion and inquiry, freedoms necessary to the improvement of any people and, ultimately, of us all.  Any censorship is a danger to freedom of mind, and thus to freedom of conscience and to freedom in its most rarefied and purest form--whatever that may be.

More specifically, Guth is an Associate Professor of Journalism, as his faculty information page notes.  Academic hierarchies are not always in the forefront of the general public mind, but in this case, the fact of Guth's position is relevant.  As an associate professor, Guth is tenured.  That means that he is supposed to be in a position of particular protection from persecution for voicing unpopular ideas, by tradition and, usually, by contract; tenure protections exist to allow the tenured to pursue truth without worrying that finding unpopular truths will result in their dismissal.  Tenure exists to prevent such things as happened to Galileo Galilei--to prevent truth from being silenced because some non-governmental political agency decides that it does not like what is revealed.  The free expression by a person of that person's opinion is an item of truth, one that should not be silenced because it happens to be unpopular--and one that should not be silenced even if it happens to be repugnant.

Also, Guth has a long history of public service, one that includes (per his faculty page) "years as the chief spokesman for the state's prison, probation and parole systems."  He is not speaking from the stereotypically-perceived professorial position of unending isolation in the mythical ivory tower, but as the result of years of work with some of the populations most directly impacted by guns and their use; he likely knows whereof he speaks from lived experience as much as from sustained academic study.  If he speaks out against a given group from such knowledge, his speech perhaps ought to be more closely attended--and if he speaks with authority, he ought not to be condemned.

Further, Guth is an Associate Professor of Journalism.  He teaches those who will become the press, people to whom particular protections are afforded by the highest laws of the United States.  As their teacher in the very thing that affords them their Constitutional protections, he has every right to consider himself also thusly protected--and his career suggests that he has done the work to earn those protections himself, not only through his students.  While Guth, according to the LA Times article, did not post his comments in his capacity as a member of the press or in his capacity as a professor, surely he had reason to expect that he would be able to give voice to what he saw as truth.

Ultimately, though, the University of Kansas, as a state school, is an adjunct of the state government and therefore, at some remove, of the government of the United States.  For a governmental agency to silence the speech uttered by a citizen in that citizen's capacity as a private citizen (i.e., not speaking through official channels, but through personal resources) is heinous, an abrogation of the principles underlying the First Amendment.  And if supposed proponents of the Second are offended by this, they are entitled to voice their opinions--but they ought to remember that the First Amendment is first for a reason.

The Second exists in service to the First, not the other way around.

Friday, September 20, 2013

20130920.0647

I have commented before on my enjoyment of the morning hours for the quiet that they offer.  In The City, quiet is a rare and precious thing, eagerly to be sought by those who grew up with access to it, and notably unnerving to many who grew up without.  I have seen some who do not do well when removed from the clamor of too many people in too small a space, jostling against one another loudly and navigating through clotted streams of traffic and the occasional pockets of heavy machinery grinding and rumbling,

Well away from The City, now, I have greater access to the quiet I seldom got while there, and I can feel the noise and tumult that had been in me easing out of me.  It is a purgation not entirely comfortable; it is a tenacious thing, the noise that seeps into a person when amid several million others, clinging in resistance to being passed.  And if the reference is scatological, I have written before about the fetor that occupies much of The City and of the propensity of people to defecate in public--there is a connection between the digestive and acoustic wastes, in that both are natural, both go away, and both are unpleasant to have in close proximity.

There is this connection, too, that both are the results of what is taken in--and the most flavorful meals often leave the least pleasant smells well after they are eaten. (I cannot seem to shake the scatology this morning.  I do not apologize.)  So while I am glad to be relieving myself of what it is that I yet carry, I cannot say that I have it without enjoying quite the meal, one by which I have been well nourished.  But I find myself hungry again, and I am looking about for what I will eat next.  It is fortunate, therefore, that Stillwater's school deals so much with agriculture...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

20130919.2140

I received a bit of good news, thanks to one of my international colleagues of renown, Helen Young: I will be returning to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in May 2014, so that I may present a paper on the Tales after Tolkien session of the International Congress on Medieval Studies.  It will be my fourth paper at the conference and my second with Tales after Tolkien.  I am excited to be partaking of a decades-long tradition and working to develop a new one.

I will not discuss the paper overly much here, at least not yet.  If nothing else, it needs a lot of work, so that it is not ready to be put on display.  But I will say that it is one that does work directly to address some of the interactions between the cultures represented in fantasy literatures and the medieval Western Europe from which the overwhelming majority take their form--and in some of the most prominent features of the medieval.

The ability of such a paper as I conceive to be speaks to one of the reasons that I study what I study, why I spend my time in and among the older works of English literature instead of immersing myself wholly in entrepreneurship or in whatever is on TV right now (I got internet and phone service hooked up today, but I think I will not get television; I really do not need it).  We are still doing the things that were done in the medieval period, still telling the stories our centuries-distant cultural ancestors told (and if you speak English as a native language, they are your cultural forebears if not your genetic ones)--and not only in fantasy fiction, which is still enjoying a rare amount of social cachet due to the efforts of Peter Jackson and Blizzard.  The (romanticized) idea of the cowboy ethic, one prevalent in Texas and in Stillwater, Oklahoma (in some measure, at least), is very much medieval in many ways, as is the increasingly caste-bound corporate system, with its overreliance on "just in time" labor practices.  Because these things are parallel, it is possible--or even likely--that what we know of then can inform our understanding of now, that how matters were resolved then can offer models for how to fix things now.

And there are always the jokes to consider...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

20130918.1056

One of the things that has changed for me in the move to Stillwater is the perception of weather.

In The City, there are sun and wind, rain and snow, but they are filtered through the urbanness of the place.  The sun shines brightly but seldom, and even then, it is experienced more reflected from the towers of concrete, steel, and glass than in direct beams; its virtue is largely expended, although the annoyances of glare and heat remain in full force.  The wind blows, almost always up Eighth Avenue, frequently carrying with it the fetor of rotting food moldering in trash cans not yet emptied, or else the sickening stink of purgings from both ends of the mammalian digestive tract.  The rain that falls carries with it the particulate matter released by the daily deeds of the denizens and visitors to New York City, their millions of exhalations and excretions and exhausts sent heavenward and knocked back down to earth by falling water; being caught in a shower feels much like being caught under a car that does not retain its fluids well.  And the snow, although it sits whitely for a time, is soon discolored by all manner of things, piled up by others always in the way of yet others, and it does not drain well when it melts.

Rarely, though, did I hear thunder echoing through the concrete canyons, even in the most violent storms.  The rain could fall such that I could not see ten feet in front of me, but the only sounds were of the rain itself and the noises of those who were forced to be out in it.  The retort of superheated air to the insult of lightning flashing through it seldom came to me while I was in The City, and, having grown up in the Texas Hill Country where such sounds are expected, I missed hearing the profound bass rumblings that said "storm" to me.

In several of the last few days in Stillwater, rain has fallen (and it has been welcome).  As it has found its way from cloud to ground, it has been heralded by the erratic strobing of lightning leaping across the heavens and to earth, and instead of trumpets to sing of its arrival, the rolling of kettle-drums has sounded among the meteorological cannonade to let me know that I have come to a land where the storms announce themselves in pride and majesty.

Their song has been a comfort to me.

Monday, September 16, 2013

20130916.1636

I have not kept abreast of developments.
I do not know
Of football scandals
Or shootings on bases
Or imminent war,
At least not as much as I should.
It is a failing in some ways,
An artifact of my living in the literature of the past
And of immersing myself in the work I do
Teaching
And doing the reading and research upon which teaching depends--
As well as the grading that seemingly inevitably results.

(I am not sure why it is
That grading papers takes up most of my on-the-job time.
Is it really the case that marking papers
Is the most important part of teaching?
The recent and ongoing drive
Towards assessment as the end-goal of "education"
Implies that it is so,
Yet the more assessment that happens,
The more complaints that
Children are not learning and
College is a waste of money
Are voiced.
Am I a fool to think there might be causation between the two,
Or is my folly of another sort altogether?)

It is a thing to which I return,
The development and maintenance of ethos,
Of my authority to speak with authority.
If I am going to critique the writing of others,
I must be,
If not above critique
(For no one is;
Shakespeare could have written better
By having Romeo and Juliet
Kill themselves in Act I
And letting Mercutio live),
In a position to make the critique damned hard to carry out.
If I am going to work
To get the students to expand their minds,
My own must be open wide,
And it is difficult to stretch so far
When constrained by the demands of my position.

(Note that I do not complain of having the work to do.
I am glad to have the job I have.
That does not mean it is perfect.
It does not mean that things could not be better.
And it does not mean that I cannot voice my objections.
We do not fault the ditch-digger, the roof-maker, or the wall-builder
For bemoaning an aching back
Or the hot summer sun.)

The only thing to do is more,
And there is always more to do.
It is a throne in the ivory tower
In the seat of which a tack is set
Point up,
And I flopped into it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

20130913.0758

The move from The City to Stillwater, Oklahoma, has not changed everything for me.  I still get up between five and five-thirty (and the first time each morning is at five to five-thirty Eastern Time...which is an hour ahead of my current Central).  I still arrive at work between seven and seven-thirty.  I still have a fair bit of walking to do to get to where I need to go.  And I am still at the office longer than I really ought to be or need to be (although I really ought to get more done in my days...).

One thing that has very much changed, though, is the way I get to work.  Instead of walking to a subway from which I walk to my office, I simply walk the mile or so from my front door to the desk where I sit as I type out this blog post.  This means that I get a bit of exercise each day (two miles walking, plus a little more during the day, in addition to aikido or any other fitness activities I might take up, time permitting).  It also means that I am out in the weather and in the world, and that has proven good for me.

This morning, for instance, I walked to work as the sun rose over the university campus, chasing away cloud cover with cool and damp wind.  The heavens above the red brick buildings were painted pink and purple, yellow and orange, gilded by the bright flaming ball of the day-lamp.  While I have waxed poetic about my earlier commute, that to which I am moved by my morning and evening walks to and from work is a far different feeling from that which being carried along dank, hot tunnels in rattling coffins of glass, metal, and the stink of too many people in too small a place evokes.

The adjustment to life here has not been as easy as I could have hoped.  I had adapted fairly decently to The City, mostly by becoming able to ignore it more or less consistently, looking at it only so long as to evaluate what seemed to be a potential threat or a potential benefit and allowing the rest to fade into the pervasive concrete gray and the preferred sartorial black.  That particular skill, if it can be called a skill, does not serve me particularly well here, but it has become a habit.  I am very much a creature of habit, finding it harder to adjust to new things than I perhaps ought.  But if more things could be like this morning for me, I think I would have an easier time doing so.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

20130912.1343

Consider the obligatory explanation for the lack of frequent updating given.

I have noted that I studied aikido at the New York Aikikai, working under the supervision of Yoshimitsu Yamada and a battery of excellent instructors who have benefited from his teaching much more than my poor efforts allowed me to do.  Moving away from The City means that I cannot continue to be in regular attendance at that dojo, but I have been fortunate to find a place to continue to practice O-Sensei's path; OSU offers aikido instruction, albeit in Shodokan or Tomiki style rather than Aikikai.  I am working regular attendance into my schedule, negotiating my teaching and grading (which seem to have not diminished in terms of time required despite my having fewer classes with fewer students in them), and I have a few comments to offer about my initial experiences.

The aikido taught at OSU is different than that to which I grew accustomed in my years in The City.  For one, it does much to break concepts down by gradation, something I think owes to the style's parent, Kenji Tomiki, having been a student of judo; the techniques taught by rank is something I recall from my own earlier study of Kano's style.  For another, the difference in setting tells; instruction at the New York Aikikai is not inexpensive, and the cost and available intensity mark the way in which teaching takes place.  Similarly, the free twice-weekly offerings at OSU leave their own particular mark on how things are done.  It is not better or worse, in and of itself, but it is markedly different, and the adjustment is taking some time and mental effort on my part.

I confess to some frustration at having to once again start again.  I know it is something required by the switch of styles, and I accept it as a lesson in humility and as a way to keep myself grounded in the kind of learning experience I imagine my students face in my classes (they come in knowing how to speak English in one way, but are now obliged to work on a way previously unfamiliar or minimally familiar to them).  That does not mean that it is easy to have to act as one who has not been taught before, to learn as though knowing nothing already; while I did not work as hard at the New York Aikikai as I perhaps ought to have, I did put in some effort, and I am vain enough to take pride in having done so.

But I have already found one way in which I look to benefit from the shift to Shodokan basics.  I am having to pay greater attention to the placement of my feet and the way I move on them to be able to do the basic work taught by OSU's aikido program.  I am having to pay greater attention to the specific, exact positioning of each part of my body; the immediate dynamism of training at the New York Aikikai is not always conducive to breaking down the individual placement of parts in the same way that the accumulative style of instruction in my present position is.  I know--and those who have had the good grace to put up with me as a practice partner know--that I have not always done well in finding exactly where I am supposed to be with each technique.  What I am doing now will help me to improve in that regard, I think.

It is rare that I am able to find good amid my annoyance and frustration.  This is something else in which I need to improve...

Friday, September 6, 2013

20130906.1344

Things have been remarkably busy over the last few days, and they look like they will continue to be so.  In addition to my usual teaching duties, concerns of the move have taken up much of my time of late.  My beloved wife made it to town on Tuesday, and with her came my mother-in-law, whose visit was fairly helpful and enjoyable.  She left for her home this morning, and I am soon to be joined by my father-in-law, his wife, her daughter, the daughter's significant other, the daughter's children, one of my wife's uncles, and his wife.  They are to help with the move, transferring my wife's things and mine from the containers in which we had them shipped down (and which arrived on Thursday) to where they will rest in the house my wife and I share.

There are many hands to do much work.  It should go smoothly--but "should" and "will" or "does" are seldom the same thing.

For example, the boxes within the cargo containers should have remained relatively well stacked; they were heavy enough in many cases or most to not move.  Yet I found several upside-down and severely impacted when I opened the containers yesterday afternoon to ensure that things would not fall out onto the heads of my helpers this weekend.1  So far, none of the boxes have show up with things in them broken, but I have only looked in a very few as yet, and I saw many which are not in as good a shape as I had seen them last, when they sat in rows and stacks in what was my Brooklyn apartment.

I cannot say that I am hopeful.

Many of those who know me well and care deeply about me (insofar as they can be numbered "many") would suggest that the things are simply things, and that what is important has already arrived safe and sound in the person of my wonderful wife, so those who would remind me of that would be right to do so.  It is likely the case, too, that they would say I am being overly pessimistic--and it is possible that they are correct.  It may be the case that the boxes and packing have done what they are supposed to do and absorbed the destructive forces of any impacts that the goods sustained, deforming in the process of keeping safe the things I do treasure.  They might also suggest that by focusing on the potential for ruin, I am isolating myself from seeing the good in things, and in that, too, they may be right.

But there are benefits to pessimism.  For if I am right, then I am ready for what I see, and I am not rendered entirely ineffective by the shock of the surprise.**  And if I am wrong, the surprise with which I am confronted is a pleasant one.

*I have a long working history of things hitting me in the head, so that I would consider it a job well done were a box of my books or some such to lay itself upside my hairline.  But it is not the case that others fare similarly, and while my head is more than hard enough to resist such a thing, I am not at all sure that some of those who are coming can take such a hit.

**I am rendered ineffective by being ineffective.  Surprise had nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

20130904.1100

I recently graded a number of documents my students submitted
(Amazingly enough,
They were on time),
Their resumes
Their testimonies
In brief
Of who they are
What they have done
What they hope to become
And I was impressed with some of them.

Some of them have done much
Of note.
I have Eagle Scouts,
Lab workers,
And long-standing service-persons
Who have been in the world
And of the world
As I have not.

The resumes
Are windows from the ivory tower
In which I reside more fully now than before.
I look out from them,
See green yards, tall trees, and people walking about smiling,
And I confess to come envy of what I see.

Other panes reveal much less to celebrate,
As has been the case for me
Before.

I lean back from the windows
And relax into my comfortable chair,
Scholarly apparatus again in reach
And wonder if others
Look in
With green eyes
At what I have.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

20130903.0931

Yesterday, instead of reveling in the usual Labor Day activities of grilling and posting snarky comments to this blog, I traveled to Denton, Texas, to attend another funeral.  I have been doing entirely too much of that kind of thing these past months.  Too many of those with whom I am akin are passing on, and while I know that it is the just and necessary consequence of living, I am vexed by it having happened as many times as it has in as quick a succession as it has to my people.

I have heard it said, although I do not remember where or when or by whom (for which I apologize), that one of the things that typifies getting old is that the people someone knows keep dying off.  I have complained about feeling like an old man before, but no amount of stark white hair showing up in my beard or moustache feels the way that seeing the honest grief of others does.  If it is that which makes a person old, then I do not know that I want to see myself become so aged.

The services, though, reminded me to reflect on the fact that I am yet well, and that I have been given much else for which to be thankful.  I have thus reflected (and I continue to do so), and I am appreciative of those gifts with which the Creator has seen fit to endow me--including access to a space in which I can publicly state such things.  And if I anticipate that some will reject such statements out of hand, I also know that I am equipped to respond to them as befits--which may well be not at all.

To return from the digression, though: more normal entries, insofar as any of my writings can be considered "normal," should resume tomorrow or shortly thereafter.  I like doing the work of pushing my writing out into the world, and I have the time in which to do it once again.  Hopefully, I will run into something worth more reading.