Thursday, October 31, 2013


Happy Halloween--or Happy Holiday of Your Choice.  I do not judge (much), at least not in terms of what holidays you want to celebrate or how you celebrate them.  Unless it involves human sacrifice and you want me or mine.  Then, I judge you...and you will have chosen...poorly?

My mask (because the one I celebrate is a masking holiday) appears below:

Scary, eh?

(I said I would shave it.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Tomorrow, I am going to do something that I have not done--at least not intentionally--for some years: shave my beard and moustache.  I have worn a full beard since entering graduate school, a bit more than eight years now (with the occasional adjustment for having sneezed while trimming); I wore a goatee for some years before that, and a moustache in some form since high school.  The fact that tomorrow will see me trim down the beard growth I have let accrue and shave away what the trimming leaves behind, then, is a strange one.

I am doing it to highlight the contrast for my participation in No-Shave November, noted here and discussed more fully (if with overly commercial and hipsterish overtones) here.  One of the ideas underlying it, as those sources note, is to accentuate features traditionally ascribed with manliness (the sources note that women are free to participate, but the presentations and discussion focus on facial hair--beards and moustaches, typically masculine features) in the hopes of linking those features to an increased awareness of male health issues, notably prostate cancer (which the US CDC notes is among the most common, and commonly fatal, forms of cancer).  In effect, knowing about men's health issues becomes a manly thing and a corrective to the common trope of manliness in which a man endures pain and discomfort without comment.  (It remains good to do so, of course, to not whine about things when nothing can be done about them, but it is also manly to work to correct problems when they arise instead of ignoring and enduring them--and regular medical examination is something that can be done.  Cars get regular maintenance.  Houses and tools do.  Why not the men who associate themselves so strongly with such maintenance?)

Being a man, I am necessarily concerned with issues of men's health--and more so since learning that a small and precious life depends in no small part upon my ability to provide for it.  (Before any of you ask, yes, I am making appointments to see a doctor about some nagging health concerns I have.  I pay for health insurance; I might as well get the benefit of it.)  Being a man who sports a beard and moustache normally, No-shave November seems to me to be an easy thing in which to participate (I know that I may be chastised for taking the easy way out).  Being a man who has the good fortune to work in an environment conducive to doing so is a great help, as well; I have not always had the kind of job that would allow me to do such a thing as neglect shaving for a month.

There is always the danger in awareness-raising that all that will happen is the awareness-raising, that those who strive to raise awareness will content themselves with doing so and will not take such actions as will help to correct the problem of which they seek to make others aware.  I hope to not suffer such a thing.  Again, I am setting up appointments for examinations and the like, working to correct my own behavior in the matter.  If finances allow (and, given my work, they may well not), I will be making some donations to organizations that work to find better treatments and cures for the disease.  And I will encourage others to do the same, overtly through my words and tacitly by means of the awesome beardliness that November will bring back to me.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The weather around Sherwood Cottage is somewhat...dreary.  It is in the upper 60s (Fahrenheit, of course since I am in the US and still think in such terms), and the winds are gusting.  A leaden overhang of clouds covers the blue face of the daylight heavens.  Perhaps owing to my curmudgeonliness, perhaps owing to some Herbertian genetic memory of my Anglo-Saxon forebears, or perhaps owing to my growing up in the decreasingly-semi-arid Texas Hill Country, I am happy to see that rain has come and may well come again.  I am pleased to see the sky overcast and the whipping of trees and plants in the erratic flows of air that presage storms.

Perhaps also it is because such weather as is about today is good weather for writing, and I flatter myself that I am a writer.  Rain tends to promote being indoors, and such writing as I do is best done contained by walls and lit by lamps electric or otherwise; while sunshine illuminates much, and indeed provokes certain kinds of writing (of which I have been evidence), conditions outside tend to include bugs, whose killing blots the page, and wind that takes the pages away.  Neither helps me much, particularly not in navigating as many pages as my more formal writing of necessity does.  The great indoors, then, is my place of writing, and the rain makes it far more likely that I and others find ourselves inside.

More importantly, though, the rain does much to stimulate thought.  (I note only in passing the Classically sexual reference; how else would Ouranos impregnate Gaea?  Yet that is itself a stimulation to creation, and writing, ideally, is creation.)  Perhaps the falling rain creates white noise, with the benefits ascribed to it.  Perhaps the raindrops carry with them sendings from on high, the transmissions of the old divinities still coming through to their worshippers' descendants--or the missives of angels from the Abrahamic Most High.  Perhaps Tolkien has it right, and in the play of the rain, the mightiest of those who sing enact together some remnant of the creative hymn, and some have ears with which to hear it dimly even now.

To assume such a thing would imply, however, that I hear well, and that is clearly not the case.  I sit in a tacked throne in the basement or lobby floor of the ivory tower, where the walls (so say too many) echo loudly with the amazed revelations of pointy-headed elitists at obvious things or things that obviously should not be examined, and the sounds of good and honest folk cannot penetrate the din through the vanishingly small doors and windows through which they pass or look into the edifice as it falls increasingly into disrepair.  That, and many years sitting directly in front of enthusiastic drummers has had an effect upon me that does not always sound so good.  But neither changes my love of the kind of weather that surrounds Sherwood Cottage even now.

Monday, October 28, 2013


I have commented about being a morning person before (referenced here), about the joys of being awake and aware in the early quiet and cool.  I enjoy the feeling of the first cup of coffee taking effect on me (and I think there may be a poem in there somewhere).  I do my best work in the mornings, really, while I can focus intently upon the tasks facing me and have the pressure of a deadline to motivate me.  The blog happens as it does because I have to go to work, and so I cannot spend quite so much time on it as I might otherwise do; I am obliged to develop ideas quickly and efficiently if I am going to get my words out into the world.  Preparation for my classes happens similarly; I only have so much time at the office before I must head down to my assigned room to greet the students, so I must act quickly to put together ideas for them.

Even so, I confess that I do not snap awake of my own accord (often, anymore).  Usually, I set an alarm, and it is the alarm that wakes me.  Or it tries to do so; like most alarm clocks, mine has a snooze button, and there are days I avail myself of it.  I do so most days, in fact, including this morning.  (I am fortunate that the snooze timer is a scant five minutes and that I do not know how to adjust it.  It prevents me from falling all the way back to sleep, so the repeated alarm is less jarring.  Did I know how to reset the thing, I might still be abed.)

That I have already begun using my snooze button this week--and I have yet to have gone to work--can bespeak several things.  It could suggest that I am in anticipation of fatherhood (as I am) and am in practice for not getting enough sleep; I remember many nights in my youth that my father was awake after I went to bed and was already dressed by the time I rolled out of it (usually because he came and woke me up), and I have heard the words of other fathers (I work and have worked with many), so I expect that full nights of sleep will become rare and precious.  It could suggest that I am still in some form of recovery from the exertions of The City, with its frenetic pace and affectedly arrogant attitudes; it is a commonplace that New York City grinds people down, and while I think I may have been more of gristle than grist, I was not unaffected by the millstones of Manhattan avenues.  And it could suggest that I am lazy, an indolent intellectual (like most of that breed, else why would we prefer scholarship to "real, honest" work?), loafing at my ease (as the poet has it) rather than actually getting going and doing something useful for something other than mimetic Onanism.

That I think the second most accurate does not mean that it is.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The entries in this blog have, from time to time, carried the label NSFW, indicating that they are not safe for work.  Usually this is because, like this post (which itself carries the label), they use such words as fuck or damn, or they make...indelicate reference to certain parts of the body or functions of them, stating rather than euphemizing them.  But the idea of what counts as safe for work or unsafe for work makes a number of assumptions about the workplace, assumptions which may not always or even often hold.

Several sources of perhaps dubious validity discuss the matter (neither the online OED nor the online Webster do). offers fairly cursory, user-generated descriptions hereWikipedia offers more detail hereKnow Your Meme offers still more here.  Each speaks to the idea that reference to such things as sex, drugs (but not rock and roll), profanity (variously defined), and gratuitous violence (usually indicated by the amount of blood shown and the degree of detail in depictions of inflicted injuries) bars a given item from being fit for discussion in the workplace.  Several comments note that the display of NSFW materials is likely to result in formal disciplinary action (it can be construed as one of several forms of harassment, for example, and easily as inappropriate use of company resources) up to and including termination (and possibly prosecution, depending on the material and the locality).

Again, though, what is true in one workplace is not necessarily true of others.  My work in the academic humanities, for example, often legitimately runs to notions otherwise NSFW.  One cannot discuss Mark Twain without addressing racial epithets.  One cannot meaningfully engage Shakespeare without running into issues of pedophilia (Romeo and Juliet), cannibalism (Titus Andronicus), possible incest (Hamlet), and sexualities overt and covert (Much Ado about Nothing, the sonnets, etc.).  Chaucer, Spenser's "well of English undefiled," rolls around in materials routinely considered objectionable; fart jokes and adultery abound in his Canterbury Tales, and in the Miller's Tale, well, it is difficult to interpret "prively he caughte hire by the queynte" as anything other than a rather intimate touch that anymore could result in sexual assault charges.  Yet I get to talk about such things (and more!) as a matter of course; on the rare occasions when people have complained about such content, I have been able to point to the texts and demonstrate "legitimate academic interest," so that what is otherwise NSFW becomes not just safe, but vital, for work.

Lest it be thought that it is simply an artifact of being a pointy-headed intellectual elitist, one who tries to undermine all that is right and good in the world and who does things no "decent" person would do, let us note also traditional depictions of sailors' talk--or that of any fighting folk, whose speech is sown with such terms as once got children's mouths well soaped.  Their work is highly valued by many, even by many who would abjure mine for some of the reasons noted above, and yet they speak freely of such things in the course of their duties.  And "real" doctors, of course, have to handle such things daily, eminently indelicately, yet they are not censured for having pictures of gaping wounds and festering pustulent flesh on their working screens.  What is safe for work changes depending upon the work, of course, but that the default assumption is as it is suggests things about what the default workplace is--and that is pretty much fucked up.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Today's reading has not

I have not found
To spark comment from me
To serve as the generation
Of five hundred words
Or more
Either of meandering ravings
Or of lucid prose
(And I know the former
More likely
Than the latter).

I have not found
Without me
To spur the delving
Within me
That generates new knowledge,
Or should,
Or is hoped to.

I have not found
Serving as a way to reject the claims of laziness
That I have heard levied against
Whose labors are not evident
And the results of whose labors are not immediately seen as "useful"
For the killing of others,
The reduction of their circumstances,
The enhancement of finances,
Or the filling of their bellies.

I do not reject the filling of bellies;
My own is quite full,
And I am happy for it.

I do not reject the enhancement of finances;
I appreciate the paychecks I receive,
And I confess that I could stand to see them bigger.

I do not reject the reduction of others' circumstances;
Some people have too damned much,
Gained unjustly.

I do not reject the killing of others;
Some people need to die.

I do reject,
The notion that such concerns
Are the only concerns worth noting.
There is more than
The spilling of blood
The taking of things
The gaining of money
The eating of food
And that "more" is too much neglected.

But that is no new insight.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Through something of a minor miracle, while I was about my business yesterday, I managed to recall the topic I had originally meant to discuss yesterday.  It did little to ease the frustration I voiced, happening as it did well after I had made my blog post (and I do try to limit myself to one of these each day; oversaturation would set a dangerous precedent for me).  But it does make it easier for me to sit and write this morning, and I can certainly appreciate that.  (It also allows me something resembling a graceful transition into this piece from the last one, which helps, as well.)

As I have noted, my wonderful wife and I are expecting to be joined by a child.  Accordingly, I have already begun to think about that child's place in and among the families of which the child will be part--and that led me to thinking about how I will explain to the kid who and what my families are.  Given how much I talk about my family, it ought to be a fairly easy thing to do--but "ought" and "is" are all too often entirely different.  They certainly are as I try to wrap my head around the identities of my own families--I will leave my in-laws to my wife--as I try to pass them on to their next generation.  (Yes, I note the Star Trek reference.  Go figure that one out.)

I have noted before the working-class, salt-of-the-earth nature of my families.  Even now, as I write these words, my father is getting ready to go to work maintaining and repairing ventilation systems in a veterans' hospital.  One of my uncles is likely waking up so that he can go work on cars.  A cousin is doing the same, and another cousin is getting ready to dig ditches to install water pipes or to fix a toilet (his is a crappy job, I know).  Other members of my family are perhaps not in such labor, but are still down-to-earth folks; my mother is likely handling tax returns today, an aunt is staffing a school lunchroom, a cousin is stocking shelves in a drugstore or something similar, and my brother is or before long will be putting packages into a truck so they can go where they need to go.  They are a plain, hardworking people on all sides, solid and dependable and in many respects the exemplars of what the American working class is supposed to be.

The label does not sit so well on me as it once did.  As a scholar, as a privileged member of the contingent corps of academics, I am obliged to sit in offices and stand in classrooms and wander the stacks in libraries in search of knowledge with which to make more.  I am expected to absent myself from such things as my families still do, not just in their working lives, but in their personal lives.  I am not supposed to want to go out and have a beer and watch a game and crack dirt jokes, for example, but to sit quietly with a glass of wine and calmly discuss abstract concepts that have no bearing on the "real" work of living day to day.  I am supposed to sit in judgment over the words and deeds of others, reading them to uncover the systematic inequities that they indicate and to find ways to redress the social ills that my own family perpetrates.  The expectations impose a separation between me and the family that taught me to put family first, a separation I am still trying to untangle and a separation which I do not want to impose upon my child.

The difficulty, I think, is obvious.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I had had an idea of what I was going to write about while I was in the shower this morning.  By the time I finished washing, got dressed, and made my way to my computer to sit down and write, though, the idea had left me entirely.  All of it that remains is a hole in my recollection, as if something has been pulled out of the ground; I have the general imprint that a thing was there, but I have no idea of its color or of its shape above the soil that is my mind.  It frustrates me; it was a really good idea.

Knowing that it was there, though, offers another avenue into writing, for I think that I am not the only person to have been so afflicted.  Surely I cannot be the only one who has had an idea and lost it, knowing that it was there but unable to recover it (and I still maintain that the thing itself is not a memory; although it is remembered as having existed, it is not itself remembered).  Discussing the experience and its ramifications, then, offers some means of connection between my readers (and I thank you for continuing to read!) and myself--and building connections is a big part of what this kind of writing is supposed to do.

I, at least, have often had the sensation of knowing a thing and then losing that knowledge before it can be used.  For a scholar, it is particularly annoying; we make our ways in the world through knowledge, seeking what knowledge others have left behind and seeking within ourselves for new knowledge to leave behind ourselves.  Each gain of knowledge is an enrichment--even the knowledge that is hard to bear--and each loss of it is concomitantly a diminishment of not only the scholar but of all who follow after.  Had I been able to keep my idea until I sat down to write, I would have been able to develop it (if only a bit) and offer it to the world so that others could see it and, perhaps, use it to look into themselves and find out yet more about the great and glorious existence that is ours.  (If I seem uncommonly optimistic, you may ascribe it to my impending fatherhood; the baby makes all things seem more hopeful.)

Knowing that I had something to offer, something that I could have developed for the entertainment and enrichment of others, something that could possibly have made another person's day better, and that I cannot do that now, is not the most pleasant of things.  Even though no promise of that had been made--indeed, no real offer--I feel as though I have failed in some way, as though I have not lived up to my profession of professing.  I have somehow not given what I ought to give, and I rebuke myself for it despite knowing that no real chastisement for my incapacity will come from the world--perhaps because it does not care, or perhaps because it forgives such minor failings and, in doing so, encourages me to do the same.  And perhaps that is a thing worth sharing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Some assorted news is available.  One item is that my wonderful wife and I took a trip to the City of Thunder yesterday, there to have some tests done regarding the upcoming addition to our family.  Results look good.  The baby has ten toes and ten fingers--and in fine familial fashion, two were lifted up in salute of the ultrasound's probing.  (I leave it to you to determine which two.)  Blood was drawn to look for a few other things, but there are as yet no physical signs of causes for concern, which is a joyful relief for us.

Other news is less important, although also joyous--at least in the minds of my compatriots in the work of teaching.  Before the trip, I was able to get two classes' papers graded--and one set of them even made its way back to the students (the other waited until after the trip was done).  I actually managed to get caught up to myself for once, a phenomenon I know will be short-lived, since another assignment is coming in today.  Still, the rare sensation of being where I need to be in my work was welcome; I shall have to do it again sometime.

Another item is that Humanities Directory still needs submissions.  It is joined in this by my proposed special session for the 2014 South Central Modern Language Association conference, to tale place in Austin, Texas.  Seriously, give me more work to do.  I look forward to reading what you send in; perspectives from any discipline that can conceivably be regarded as being in the humanities are welcome, and a trip to the beautiful Texas Hill Country is worth taking (especially at the time of the conference, when the heat will be more or less over but cold has not set in--for it hardly ever does).

Major news points done, some commentary: I find that my thoughts are increasingly overtaken by the evidently healthy baby my wife carries.  The names we have selected run through my mind and over my tongue, through the end of my pen and my fingers on the keyboard (if not in this venue).  With each iteration, they grow more pleasant for me; I am increasingly enamored of them and of the child they represent.  Even now, I smile to myself despite the sure knowledge that nobody sees it.  I cannot help but do so; I am going to be a father.

But I know that I am not ready for the responsibility of raising a child.  In many ways, I still feel as thought I am a child, navigating a world made for those bigger than me and confused by the subtle signs and signals that flow around me.  There is much I do not understand and that I feel I never will, and the idea that I am tasked with helping a new life learn to live in the world when I cannot (else why should I seek refuge in the ivory tower, despite the sometimes-uncomfortable chairs?) frightens me; I fear to fail the child who is mine.

I know that I will be amply supported.  I know that my wife, my child, and I are greatly loved, and that many people stand ready to render much assistance.  But even with all the help in the world, things can get screwed up--and my child, all of our children (I can actually say that now), are too precious to suffer such error.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


This is evidently the three hundredth post to this blog.  I did something of a retrospective piece not long ago, so I feel no need to repeat myself here, at least not in that particular fashion.  I have no great plans to unveil in this milestone post, either.  Really, today comes across to me as just another day, one that has a fair bit of work for me to do and not enough time in which to get all of it done--a thoroughly normal state of affairs.

Today's milestone is one in a series of them to come in quick succession.  One note a few posts ago marked my hundredth for the year.  Another couple ahead will see me have the most productive month yet on the blog--and I think I have at least two more in me before the month is up.  But those milestones are of far less importance than the actions which create them; it is far more pertinent that I write, and that I write often, than that I rack up any particular number of pieces of writing--at least in this space.

The same is not true in my contributions to The Work.  At many institutions, there are minimal numbers of pieces to put into print--and not through the self-publishing enabled by the internet, but through the process of peer review, whatever the medium might be.  I am involved in helping others do so through my work with Humanities Directory (and we could use more submissions!), and I do try to get my own work pushed through peer review and into the world (if with less success than I would prefer).  Admittedly, I do not give enough of my time to doing that part of The Work; still, that I have improved in my blogging as much as I have suggests that I can do the same for my researches if I can but wean myself away from the many distractions that are available.

There is one thing that I will do to celebrate reaching a given number of posts, however.  I will cut this one short and go eat a bit of breakfast.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I have mentioned some few times my reading of and work with the published writings of JRR Tolkien--both scholarly writings and fiction.  In the main line of his fiction, the Middle-earth corpus, Tolkien expresses a preference for moonlight over sunlight.  The first of the Two Trees is the tree from which the moon arises, and the moon precedes the sun in being created.  Moonlight factors into his stories as plot devices (the moon-runes in The Hobbit, for example, and on the gate of Moria in Lord of the Rings), and far more often and importantly than the sun.  That Middle-earth privileges moonlight over sunshine is obvious, then, and it is a privileging with which I agree.

One of the things that The City strips away is the ability to see the play of moonlight over the landscape.  That people must act in the nighttime hours means that they must make light with which to see, and the lights made for and by so many people crowd out the gentle silver of the moon's reflected radiance in the gleam of mercury vapor tortured by electricity.  There is a certain ambience that the lighting promotes, particularly in The City where it accompanies labyrinthine ribbons of roadway constrained between towers of concrete, glass, and steel, but that atmosphere is as choking as the minotaur's domain could easily be--and I have spoken to the bovine overtones of life in such a place.

Sherwood Cottage gets to see some of the moonlight, especially on such nights as several of the last few have been--the skies have been more or less clear (except for one rainy evening), and the moon has been full or nearly so.  Even the quotidian domestic work of taking out the trash, leaving it beside the curb for pickup the next day, is made the more wondrous by being coated in celestial silver.  And even in the chilly air of autumn's reminder that winter is not so far away, it is worth standing on the front porch--and I have one here!--and looking out at the world as it sits, quietly and subtly argent in the as much of the full glory of night as it can maintain.

But even at Sherwood Cottage, sitting on a fairly dark street in what is not so large a city, only gets so much.  There are street lights whose not-quite-orange radiance nibbles at the edges of the jeweled Ouranian cloak--they are moths flitting against the long life of the heavens, but they do not spare the warp and weave therefore.  And even out away from town, in what even the locals call the countryside (and that from a place those in The City would think unbearably rustic and provincial--but what do they know?), there are places where that cloak is threadbare.  The occasional lights of hearth and home offer a useful counterpoint, copper to make the silver shine the brighter.  The other lights, oil rigs dotting the fields, are rather cheap sequins amidst diamonds, making the whole more tawdry through their presence.

I am aware of the benefits that accrue to the people here (including me) that they have adorned The Mother with such costume jewelry, children exulting in small works that they give to their parents.  And, like many parents, The Mother wears what her children offer (at least for a time), however bad it might look.  But that such things are suffered out of love does not make them lovely, leaving me in a context I do not yet know how to parse, whether in five paragraphs or five hundred.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


There are all too many online articles such as this one, Anne Wynter's Yahoo! Education article "College Degrees that Could Leave You Unemployed," articles that talk about what degrees to pursue and not to pursue.  Most of them frame their discussions in terms of what degrees will lead to dollars, working from the assumption that the point of going to college is to get a job that pays well.  Even if, as in the Anne Wynter piece linked above, there is the note that "a student should ultimately select a field of study that truly interests him or her," it is only a passing note; the real thrust of the article has nothing to do with interest--except financial.

It would not be terribly difficult to analyze the layout and graphics of the article for how they reinforce the message of the words.  It would be easy to note, for instance, that the sheer size of the discussion of what majors to follow to find jobs indicates Wynter's insistence upon the importance of finding a job--despite her meliorating reference to LaMeire.  It also would be easy to note that the presence of graphics in the two-column discussion focuses attention on it, instead of on the prefatory text that establishes context for it and aids in understanding it, promoting jumping into the columnar section and hasty generalizations therefrom.  It similarly would be easy to note that positioning the preferred majors to the right of their disfavored counterparts leads English-language readers from the erroneous to the correct along a naturalized pattern (since English-language text leads left to right, and since a long intellectual tradition tells us that what happens later remains in the mind longer, the right-side choices are favored by position alone).  And it would be easy to note that the increased amount of text, including hypertext, in the right column suggests through the provision of more materials--since more often reads as better--does more to subtly lead the reader to the same view that the author obviously holds.

My years of teaching technical writing and of analyzing paratextual features in the service of my research have done me some good in that they let me see such things.  If it can be called good that I see so clearly ways in which readers are manipulated (although I suppose I do much the same thing with my own text, something I may have discussed).

Honestly, though, I am struck by the lack of liberal and fine arts degrees on the list of those to avoid (again, despite the reference to LaMeire which suggests, ironically in the work of a writer, that work as a writer is not worth pursuing).  Such lists usually inveigh against the supposed idiocy of degrees in English or history or dance--and, if it is the case that the bachelor's degree exists to help students get jobs, it makes sense, since none of those degrees leads directly to work that pays decently or is reliable.  (I am not sure that the baccalaureate gets the jobs, though; associates degrees tend, in my experience, to be more job-focused, and on jobs lees prone to being outsourced.  Installation and service still require physical people to do, and those jobs will never go away; associates degrees are those that end up making better service technicians, making them better job training.)  Maybe the absence proceeds from the assumption that the readership has already decided to avoid such traps, to have already determined themselves away from eminently "useless" degrees in the arts and humanities.

If that is the case...I am not sure how I feel about it.  Some part of me laments the implication that people have given up on the kind of self-improvement that such degrees as those in the arts and humanities permit.  Another part of me celebrates the promised reduction in competition.  Yet another looks ahead with some fear for the continuation of my own job, particularly given the needs of my family...

Friday, October 18, 2013


I wrote last week about Fall Break and my curmudgeonly reaction to it.  Today, I return to that line of thought, for today is the Friday of Homecoming Week at Oklahoma State University and, more than Fall Break, I do not understand it.

I know that one of the selling points of the school is that it has the largest homecoming celebration (whether of the country or the world, I do not know--and I am not certain if other countries have homecomings or something similar).  But I do not know why that should be a point of pride, why it should be a reason for younger students to spend a whole night "pomping"--putting tissue paper through chicken wire, I am told--instead of studying or sleeping, so that I expect to have...difficulty teaching (at a college!) today.  I do not know why it should be what Greek organizations (problematic already) spend their time and money on; they all have charities to support, I am told, so why they do not spend their efforts, oh, feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, I do not know.

Homecoming has always confused me.  Even when I was in high school, marching as a bandsman in the annual parade, playing in the stands through the inane ceremonies and thoroughly uninteresting games, I did not understand the point of celebrating the return of people who had been gone maybe one day...a week play a game.  I did not understand the desire of graduates to return to their high schools, places they had spent years regarding as prisons trying to cram useless knowledge into them--and with current educational policies, I imagine the situation of the student is worse.  And I do not know why colleges should be content to perpetuate high school ideas; part of the point of higher education is that it is supposed to supersede secondary school understandings.

For college alumni, I can perhaps understand the return to the school; I have fond memories of college, and I am proud of what I did there as I am far from being of high school.  And I can see the benefit to the school of having an organized time and place to which alumni can return; if graduates are going to pop up on campus and (necessarily) disturb the usual workings of classes and of the school, it is better to have them do it at once so that the disruption is minimized.  I further understand trying to cultivate in the current student body a modicum of respect or courtesy to those who have gone before (and, frankly, whose gifts underwrite some of the nice things on campus).  But to tie it to such a spectacle and to devote hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of dollars, to interfere with the work of teaching students so that they can be alumni of which the college can be proud, and to disrupt the workings of the surrounding city to do so, seems to me to be ludicrous.

At root, I am here to do a job, and homecoming makes it harder for me to do that job.  In my off hours, I need to be able to do things like buy groceries or get gas in my car, and homecoming makes that harder, as well.  Yet I am expected to be happy about the event...I do not understand it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Having taught writing for a number of years, I am familiar with the call made by many composition textbooks to find a useful place and set of circumstances in which to write (and I have a piece forthcoming in CCC that speaks to places of writing).  I am also familiar with counter-claims asserting that relying on any one place or set of circumstances to write ultimately serves as an excuse not to do so; the place cannot be reached, nor the circumstances attained, and so the writing is allowed not to happen.  I understand the counter-claim, and I have seen it prove true for many people, but I nonetheless have my own places of writing, my own circumstances--and the different writing tasks I do call for different sets.

For example, the blogging that I try to do every morning (and to which I attend later today than I would prefer) happens in my home, in the part of Sherwood Cottage that my wonderful wife and I have set up as our shared office space (with thanks to our wonderful folklorist friend who suggested the arrangement).  It faces away from the door and from windows, minimizing distractions from outside (there are already too damned many available on a computer), focusing my attention on the generation of this kind of text.  And, as now, I write my blogged essays in the quiet, whether of the early morning when others are asleep or later after others have gone to work and I have not yet had to.

Blogging is not the only writing that I do, however.  Evaluating student work involves much writing for me--I leave many comments for the improvement of my students' work and, hopefully, of the thinking that underlies it, although I know that many will not read what I write in such a way that they can benefit from it.  That writing, I hate to do at home (although I have been having to do so more frequently of late).  Instead, I prefer to find myself in the library or in my office, hunched over a school-supplied desk with papers spread out or staring at a screen and navigating document after document after document to try to piece together what students have written and to respond to it in a way that maybe, maybe, one or two of them will look at and realize how to make things better.

It is true that I am not always diligent in my writing.  There have been days I have not blogged.  I certainly have not been as good about getting my grading done as I ought to be.  And I suppose that it is in some part the case that I have failed to be as diligent as I should be because I have not been in the conducive circumstances.  But there have been many times I have been at home and have not blogged, and there have been others I have been at my office and have not graded, so it is not only place and circumstance that permit the writing to take place.  The will to do so, to look about and within and tie the two together in knotted strands that are thence woven onto the page, is sometimes lacking even in the best of situations.  More than any other concern, it is that will that is needed--and the cultivation of it is ongoing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Yesterday, Stephen R. Donaldson's The Last Dark, which purports to be the final volume of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, was released.  I have a copy, and I have already read it, staying up until half past midnight or so to finish the book as I was compelled to do.  And I was compelled; despite its problems, the book is well worth reading.

Something I have noticed in final volumes of fantasy series is that authors often try to bring in every available loose thread in the milieu.  Every character given page-space earlier in the series comes back (whether it makes sense or not), every group finds itself represented in the final pages, and often through devices that seem too much of deus ex machina to be believed--even when a wizard has done it.  The Last Dark does this; I will not go into details so as to not offer specific spoilers (it is only the second day of release, after all, and not many read so quickly as I do), but I was several times struck by the...oddity of specific characters appearing when and how they did.

Too, Donaldson's depiction of women remains...problematic.  From my work at such events as the South Central Modern Language Association conference and the International Congress on Medieval Studies, I am given to understand that Donaldson is...unpopular among those literary scholars who treat fantasy literature, in no small part because he repeatedly portrays women...unfavorably, either as dependents or as victims (to a far greater extent than the men in his Covenant books, who frequently victimize women in addition to being themselves victims).  I understand the attitude; I understand not wanting to endorse a series whose eponymous protagonist makes himself a rapist within the first hundred pages of a narrative arc spanning three dozen years.  And I am trying to negotiate that understanding with my captivation by the narrative and my burgeoning interpretation of the milieu and the actions taken within it.

This is not the first time I have written about Donaldson's work.  Now, as then, I find much of value in it.  Now, as then, some of it is in the way his diction forces me to increase my own knowledge of words; as I have noted, my vocabulary is far from small, and I was once again sent to the dictionary to understand the language Donaldson chooses in the work.  Once again, though, I find that his use is excellent, doing much to bear out the old adage about the right word and the nearly right word; I am too much beset by bugs.  And, despite the problems of deus ex machina and misogyny noted above, the plot is compelling and, for the most part, characters' reactions are sensible, given the narrative constraints--the end of the world at hand in the last book is happening in The Last Dark, and the circumstance permits what would otherwise be...odd behavior.  That there is some resolution--substantial, really--also satisfies; I have not read the books since their beginning (I have not been alive long enough), but I have read them for many years, and I am pleased to see the series come to an ending that makes sense.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


One of the things I do to build rapport with my students is talk with them.  In the idle moments before class begins, I ask after their doings and their families and friends, and I do not seldom get similar questions from them.  In answering one such yesterday, I noted the piece I wrote in this space; while it was written as an early reaction to the bit of fiction linked in it, the piece is an example of the kind of piece my current program has me require of my students at this point in the term.  (Whether I will bring it in as an example for them to follow or not, I am not yet sure.  I had considered using this one, though.  Thoughts on the matter are welcome.)

It is also the kind of thing I am accustomed to doing, not only in the mornings in this space, but in my professional life (and the blending of the personal and the professional is one of the problems of the work I and other scholars do).  I therefore thought nothing of it, and when I answered the idle student question, I did so without the intention of showing off, but only as a matter of fact; I wrote an essay before leaving my house for work.  But the reaction my students had was...interesting.  That I would spend any time writing for something not an assignment, that I would write for pleasure, and that I would do the reading that underpins that writing, astounded them.

I suppose I ought not to be surprised.  Given the socialization I understand many of my students having, I can easily understand their reluctance to write.  Essay exams often are abusive both of writers and their writing, and, owing to educational policies that have been in place since, oh, 2000 (about the time most of my students started school), essay exams have been frequent intrusions into my students' lives.  Too, intellectual activity such as essay writing is not exactly prized anymore (if it ever really was); the focus it requires and the inevitability of being wrong it entails are hardly vaunted as desirable, whether for people of my students' age or their seniors.  (Geek chic is relatively recent, after all; for far longer than it has been vaunted, the nerd has been an object of scorn and derision, and even in the now-waning social cachet of the character, there is more of ridicule than of veneration.)  Accordingly, students' removal from engagement with writing makes sense--but I was still taken aback by it as it applied to me yesterday.  It is not easy to be open about an activity, even one that really ought to be expected of a person based on that person's profession (in several senses of the word), and to find censure.  Nor yet is it easy to realize that the rapport that is built may well be lopsided.  I think my students know far more of me than I of them--and I think they do not like much of what they know.

Strangely, that bothers me.

Monday, October 14, 2013


As I was doing my morning reading (among which is keeping abreast of social media updates), I ran across a link to this story, Shawn Carman's "There Will Be Blood, Part 3A."  I have noted my long engagement with the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game, not seldom through influencing the official story the game has been telling for more than fifteen years now.  I have also made no secret of my study of the academic humanities, particularly English, and that much of that study comes in the form of picking apart text.  That I have an opportunity here to offer a small piece of literary criticism about Carman's recent piece is therefore not wholly unexpected, but it is entirely welcome.

The story, as its prefatory blurb notes, seeks to enshrine some of the results of the various card tournaments that underpin the game's story, and it does so within a three-part narrative frame.  The frame for each centers around a member of one of the Imperial Families--in this case, Otomo, Miya, and Seppun--houses sworn directly to the Imperial Dynasty and serving it with no intermediary.  The frames encapsulate the natures of the three Imperial Families, offering understanding of how they function within the fictional milieu of Rokugan in which they exist as well as insight into how to perform the roles of such characters within the roleplaying game that milieu supports.

After a brief introductory paragraph, Carman's story offers a third-person narration of a member of the Otomo Family, Demiyah.  The story relates Demiyah's thoughts concerning a day-long mourning festival put on by one of the major factions of the milieu (during the course of which, a number of the tournament results mentioned earlier are announced).  Throughout the narration, Demiyah is depicted as being dismissive and condescending.  At no point does she speak with other characters, instead remaining aloof and coldly evaluating them.  She calls the day of mourning "trivial" and is "annoyed" at "relatively unimportant" losses.  She also remarks, among others, that the eventual defeat of a member of the festival-sponsoring faction is attained through the efforts of the Imperial Families, although her own Otomo "would never lower themselves to physical combat and the Miya were hardly suitable for such a thing, so a Seppun was an acceptable outcome."  None of the remarks are particularly complimentary, portraying the Otomo as self-important and dismissive--as they often are in the milieu of Rokugan.

The compositional structure of Carman's story reinforces the Otomo self-importance.  592 words after the brief introductory paragraph are devoted to Demiyah's narrative, some fifty more than that of the Miya and 176 more than of the Seppun; giving more talk-time to the Otomo suggests that they tend to use it, and being overly loquacious is often taken as a mark of over-inflated self-importance.  Too, the Otomo narrative is presented first, foregrounding it to initial appearance but actually positioning it as least important in traditional rhetorical order.  The Otomo are thereby suggested as being ostentatiously present--and necessarily so for purposes of structure--but far less powerful than other factions, and the view is one current in Rokugan.

The second of the three vignettes in Carman's piece treats Miya Masatsuko, offering her a third-person narrative that encapsulates several tournament results, as well.  Notably, while the Otomo narrative does not involve conversation, that of the Miya focuses on it, marking the Miya as far less remote, far more accessible, and therefore far more likeable than the Otomo--which is borne out in the milieu.  There is still some removal, however, appropriate to the status of the Miya as one of the Imperial Houses; Masatsuko tacitly compares herself to a parent of the factional representatives present around her (who are not named), and she notes that her status as a member of the Imperial Families protects her from verbal abuse.  Even so, she notes having been chastised (humanizing her, since chastisement follows fault) and is willing to engage with a junior member of one of the factions, which is far more than the Otomo offers and which bespeaks a quiet motion towards egalitarianism typical of the Miya.

The composition of the Miya section also reinforces the role of the Miya within Rokugan.  At 544 words, the vignette makes up a significant portion of the story, but not an overwhelming part--and much of the text is given to the words of Masatsuko's interlocutor; the Miya are present, but they are concerned with others.  They also function as a unifying force within the Empire, serving as the bearers of Imperial messages as well as executing the major public works and civic relief programs of Rokugan.  That the depiction of them occurs in the middle of Carman's story positions them as a bridge between others, a role the Miya traditionally fulfill in the milieu as a whole.

Carman's piece ends with a narrative of the Seppun, and, like the other two vignettes, it reports some tournament results.  It is also, like the other vignettes, a third-person narrative, suggesting the removal of the audience from the Imperial Families and reinforcing the differences between them and the majority of the population.  Unlike the other two pieces, however, the narration does not get into the Seppun's mind; indeed, other than membership in the Family and a description as a maiden with a fine voice, the focal Seppun is not named at all.  This suggests that the identities and psychologies of the Seppun are unimportant against their deeds--and it is the case in Rokugan that the Seppun are noted for their self-sacrificing nature.  They subsume themselves in their duties, so it befits a story about them to eschew such vanities as names and titles.  It befits them also to not have their words individually recorded; the events matter more than the narration of them.  It befits them further, as with the focal Seppun, to absent themselves once their duties are done--and if it shows some arrogance to leave without speaking to others, the Seppun are an Imperial Family and, traditionally, the most noble among them.  It befits them well to be shown, as in the vignette, as having a great effect on others through their actions; when they do a thing in Rokugan, it matters.

The composition of the piece reflects the Seppun nature.  They are generally regarded as taciturn, and the vignette accorded the Family is the shortest presented at only 416 words--hardly the most verbose.  Too, it contains no dialogue and no quotation, concisely glossing over its events, and that is also suited to the quiet Seppun.  And its position as the final piece positions it as of primary rhetorical importance; traditional argumentative structure puts the most important point at the end.  Since the Seppun are accorded the most important position in the piece, the piece suggests that they are the most important of the Imperial Families.  In the milieu, the Seppun serve as the corps of the Imperial bodyguard, and it is easy to argue that security is the most important feature of the government, especially in a feudal society where loyalty to one's sworn master is of utmost importance.

In each vignette--the necessarily bloviating, self-important Otomo; the conversationally bridging Miya; and the tactically taciturn Seppun--Carman's story demonstrates the essential character of the Imperial Families.  Doing so offers players of the roleplaying game insight into how characters from those Families ideally work, as the enshrining of their behaviors and revealed attitudes in official, canonical storyline embeds those ideas in the living, developing body of text that is Rokugan.  The story's origins mark it as the effect of play upon the world, and it invites others to continue to influence the milieu--an influence I am happy to have had and hope to have again.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


It is early Saturday afternoon.
Jeff Lynne's cheery call has been answered abundantly
And without the heat of summer.

My home is open to the world
And sees it passing by.
It is a good view.

It is seldom the case that such days as this are recorded.
I have heard it said that all good days are the same.
I have heard many things said.

I find it easy to find my center today,
Find it easy to find my peace,
And I have often sought it in vain.

I do not know that I want every day to be like this.
I do not know that I could stand it.
But I am happy to have it today.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Today is Fall Break at Oklahoma State University.  I am given to understand that the school's offices are open, but classes are not in session, so I was able to sleep in and am now putting this piece together instead of wrapping up one class and making ready for another.  While I certainly do not mind having gotten an extra hour or three of sleep, and I appreciate the chance to do things about the house (including more writing, I hope), I admit to being somewhat confused by the fall break...thing.  I am not certain I understand the need--or the timing.

The need--honestly, I do not see it.  The semester began in the middle of August, so that it has been just under two months in progress.  It seems a short time to need a break from studies entered into voluntarily, studies which are supposed to be themselves fulfilling and therefore invigorating.  Too, the students are overwhelmingly young; should they not be able to press on, using the energy and verve that are supposed to accompany youth?  And, honestly, do they not have projects--even from other classes than mine--to which they ought to be paying attention during the break?  Certainly the faculty do; I know that I am not the only one who will be using the day to try to get ahead on projects, for the classroom and otherwise.  So it is not a great, grand break, and I think it would scarcely be missed were it not had; my teaching in The City did not offer me any such breaks, after all, and the students and faculty who actually cared about the work did not suffer therefrom.  (Those who did not were already suffering; a break would not have helped them.)

The timing is also a source of confusion.  Yes, the schools I attended--primary, secondary, and undergraduate--took Columbus Day off, which I suppose is something like a fall break.  (I will not be getting Columbus Day off--or an observance for the more appropriate Leifr Eirikssons Dagr.  Or the yet more appropriate First Nations Peoples' Day.)  But it is also a federal holiday, and I see the sense in other offices, essentially outgrowths of government (since I went to public school and a state college), closing alongside the federal government--the more since so much private enterprise shuts down, as well.  It offers families a chance at togetherness (and, more frequently, a chance at "great sales", as I have railed against before), and I support such a thing.  Fall break, coming at the end of a week and not overlapping into holiday observance, does not, and so it confuses me.  And, in honesty, it confused me when I was in graduate school and my institution observed a fall break (two days, as I recall, and full of grading and paper-writing, so hardly the breakiest of breaks).

Perhaps it is the case that I am simply a curmudgeon, dedicated to the unenjoyment of things and the killing analysis of ideas that ought to pass unremarked, that I do not see the point in taking time off for...nothing.  But I see it as a particular peril when I and those like me are derided for "only" working so many days a year, for "getting all those days off."  Our position is hardly strengthened by such things as fall break; those who would criticize our schedules do not see the work that we do at home, the writing that is going on even now as we struggle to add to human knowledge and to refine the knowledge that already exists.  They see the empty classrooms and the students cavorting freely, and I do not know that I can blame them for wondering what it is that our schools are actually doing when that is what they see.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


As might be expected from a person whose profession involves understanding the writing others have done and cultivating the ability of others to write, and many of whose leisure activities involve putting words on a page in some semblance of reasonable order, I spend a fair bit of my time thinking about writing.  Those thoughts sometimes lead me into interesting places, including one that came about with my students yesterday as I was offering a demonstration of one way to get started thinking about a particular kind of paper (the details are not important).

Those who teach writing at the college level often find themselves in the position of having to deconstruct or modify the beliefs about writing and about the world that have been inculcated into students through years in public education systems which, understandably, spend their time teaching test-taking strategies.  (I write "understandably" because the alternative is the closure of schools and the dismissal of faculty and staff, with consequences to communities that can be easily understood with a small bit of thought.)  Among those beliefs is one in the supremacy of the five-paragraph essay.  While the form is a useful teaching tool, and there is nothing inherently wrong with the form as a form, the problem with the pattern is how it is applied to students.  Years of having to write a five-paragraph essay on every major exam tends to leave them convinced that the only way to write is as a five-paragraph essay.  Every piece of writing has to open with a single introductory paragraph that states a thesis and outlines three points, move into a body consisting of three paragraphs that each develop a single point, and end with a concluding paragraph that restates the thesis and the three main points; all too often, each paragraph has to have five to seven sentences.

There is something here of the old bit about what things look like when the only available tool is a hammer, I think.

Again, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the form in and of itself, and it is useful as a teaching tool in that it obliges students to think about rhetorical orders and structures of support.  But it does tend to limit students' thinking, and it frequently forces them into awkward, choppy prose that is far from pleasant to read.  Accordingly, I (and others) spend a fair bit of time trying to get students away from reliance on the five-paragraph form.  Yet, as I read what others write, and even at much of my own writing, I find that many shorter pieces (such as blog entries and letters to editors) take what is, more or less, a five-paragraph form.  Maybe they offer two introductory paragraphs and meld the conclusion into the third point of discussion.  Maybe they only argue two points instead of the expected three.  But they still follow the basic structure that is hammered into students' heads across a decade or more of schooling, and I am obliged to wonder what it shows about us that we write in such a way--even if it only takes me four paragraphs to do it today.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Life at Sherwood Cottage has been fairly good to me so far.  The climate has been congenial, the terrain acceptable, and the quality of groceries pretty good (particularly given the prices).  That does not mean, however, that I do not miss anything about living in The City; many aspects of that quintessentially American-urban life (and, really, New York is the US city in popular conception, although there are many others which are better in many respects) are well worth having.  Some of them are even embedded amidst aspects that are, on initial review, quite annoying.

One of those things is the time to read.  I have commented about commuting through The City in the past, and the comments have not always been complimentary.  The smell is not often desirable, and there is some vexation in taking an hour to travel eight or nine miles by subway--walking is nearly as fast, and bicycling every bit as quick, and both avoid delays in the tunnels and reduce the claustrophobic experience of riding what amount to large sardine cans.

Even so, there are benefits.  On even the most crowded rush hour trains, people read.  Some read books, whether novels or textbooks.  Some page through magazines, from National Geographic to Playboy (read for the articles, of course).  The stereotype is of the many-folded newspaper (and it occurs to me that the way newspapers in The City divide their articles makes little sense for a readership expected to read while strap-hanging; the New York Times ought to know better).  Some of the pages are physical, some electronic; some of the pages are "high," as are some of their readers, while others are very much not; but many eyes look over and take in many words on the trains, and there is some benefit in that.

I found a fair bit of it, actually.  I have commented more than once on my journal-reading (including annoying delays in journals getting to me, which does seem to have abated somewhat here); while I lived in The City, I did most of my journal-reading while on the trains.  The marginalia that result show the erratic motion of the train cars' decking under my feet and the benches under my butt when I could get a seat, but some of the best reading I did was while I was jerkily traveling from home to work to dojo to home.  The repeated bursts of reading, intensified through their use as a means to block out much of the surrounding clangor and commotion, improved my work as a scholar in both its aspects (research and teaching).  For that, then, I value the time spent on the trains, even if there are other things that still annoy me in memory.

Sherwood Cottage does not offer me that particular benefit, despite the many others it affords.  My transit, because undertaken by my own efforts, requires my attention--if not quite my full attention, enough that I cannot immerse myself in reading, nor even dip shallowly into it.  For a man whose identity has largely derived from frequency and ease of reading, this is something of a problem--and I have not yet figured out how to resolve it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I have been at work on this blog since 4 May 2010.  Much of the three years and nearly a half more have seen me less than diligent in updating this space, although since May of this year, I have been better about hammering out a short essay or a poem or, if nothing else, a series of loosely related observations, if not daily, at least working toward it.  The practice, the habituation of writing, is doing me some good; I think my writing is getting better, and the thinking that ought to underlie writing is, I think, likewise improving.  Since my profession of professing requires that I do a lot of thinking (or it ought to), improvements to my ability to think are desirable.

It need not be the case that I work mostly in essays.  I could offer snippets of verse for each of my entries; the generative process for my poetry is much the same as that for more sober prose (not that I write when I am drunk), and I could string words together in lines instead of in sentences.  Or I could post fiction--probably flash fiction or something like it, given the medium; it would be a different challenge, but I do not think a greater one, to invent and tell stories instead of offering analysis or argument.  (I was about to write "insight," but I am not certain I am comfortable with that level of hubris.)

There are snippets of verse in this blog space (as well as discussions of them), although I have yet to post fiction (as far as I recall--but I am human, and my memory is not always what it ought to be or used to be).  But I still write more essays than anything else.  That I do likely owes to my training as an academic; most of the classes in my undergraduate major and in my graduate coursework required papers of me, essays of varying length, and in the admittedly abortive efforts I make to contribute to scholarship, I hammer out more essays.  I am habituated to the task, therefore--and there is nothing wrong with that (although it may be the case that I ought to get away from work when I am not at work).

I am forced to wonder about a few things, though.  Are my assertions above correct?  Accustomed as I am to putting things into essay form, with occasional insertions of verse that have not attracted much attention, would I be able to cast things into verse over more extended periods?  Would I be able to craft a fictional narrative (and I have been tempted to try out NaNoWriMo)?  Do I actually have enough to say, or enough of a story to tell, to be able to carry out such projects, particularly with the ease I imply above?

Whether I do or not, do I do well at crafting essays?  I tend to think so, partly from arrogance, partly from some outside validation (my conference papers--essays--have generally been well received, and I do have a few things in print).  But, following Lopate, I have some doubt; I have not always been able to present my work, either in print or in speech.  And now, as I write over thirty minutes in the middle of the morning what I ought to have done in fifteen to twenty several hours ago, I have to question myself a bit.  Since I am to go to work to advise others about how to do their own writing, that sense of uncertainty may not be to my benefit...

Monday, October 7, 2013


In an earlier post, I comment about an idea for a special session I want to propose to the folks at the South Central Modern Language Association (SCMLA) for inclusion in the conference next year (which will take place in Austin, Texas, as is likely to make my family and my in-laws happy).  I suppose some clarification may be in order for those who are not regular attendees--or, as one conference panel chair noted, "repeat offenders."

SCMLA hosts three kinds of sessions--small, topical gatherings of scholars within the broader context of the conference--regular, allied, and special.  The regular sessions are standing disciplinary divisions, focusing generally on language, nation, time, and genre.  That is to say that they reflect common groupings of texts and contexts within the broad disciplines of language studies, mirroring divisions among and within academic departments at colleges and universities.  Allied sessions are sponsored by other scholarly groups that have substantial representation among the members of SCMLA; they tend to cut across disciplinary boundaries in favor of political alignments (not in the sense of the US party structure, but instead focusing on issues within the profession and larger cultural arguments).

Special sessions are individual offerings on specific topics of interest.  They must be proposed annually, and they are not always accepted as regular and allied sessions are; instead, the program committee decides what will and will not be included on any individual year.  They are special in the sense that they do not fit with the commonly recognized patterns of study at SCMLA--they either act across disciplinary boundaries in ways unlike those represented in allied sessions or they treat individual topics more strictly and narrowly than can be adequately detailed among the regular sessions.

I have had good luck with getting special sessions pushed through in the past; 2010, 2011, and 2012 each saw me put together a panel and get it accepted.  Some of the topics have been...interesting, as those familiar with my CV can attest.  And I hope to enjoy more success with the panel I will propose, Them's Fightin' Words: Explicit and Implicit Combat Methodologies.  A description, derived from the short version I will be sending to SCMLA, appears below:

The will to fight is embedded in human nature and so in human languages and literatures.  Many of the most widely-read works in any language have much to say about the ways in which people work to injure and destroy each other's properties and bodies.  Even many texts which perhaps do not count as "literary" treat the matter; most systems of martial arts have guidebooks written by advanced and expert practitioners of those arts, and militaries throughout the world publish manuals to assist in training people better how to kill.  Because so much effort is spent in describing and teaching fighting in the written word and other media, it seems appropriate to examine such depictions to uncover what they say about their writers, their readers, and the world in which they all exist.  This panel seeks to examine overt, and explicate covert, textual discussions of how best to fight; abstracts of papers for possible inclusion in the session are welcome.  They should be no more than 300 words and should be sent to before the end of the business day on 14 February 2014.

If you or someone you know has ideas that would fit the panel, please send them along to me.  I'd love to see what comes in.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I made it back to Stillwater from New Orleans yesterday, and I am sitting in my home once again and with great joy.  The trip to the South Central Modern Language Association conference--the seventieth annual, as it happens--was productive, and I have ideas for special sessions to push forward--one, at least, I will advertise here and in the other venues to which I post.  As expected, I reconnected with some people I have known, and I made other contacts that promise to generate more than passing acquaintance.  It was a good time, and I do feel refreshed.

I also have a few observations to make from the trip:

Thirteen and a half hours on the road if not more tiring than nine, particularly if it includes stops for meals.

Even without large signs that read "Bienvenue à la Louisiane," where the state line is is immediately obvious.

The French Quarter still has good food, and it still has annoying tourists.

The tourists in the French Quarter are much less annoying than those in Times Square.

Comfortable shoes are a must.

Gas station coffee is better in Louisiana.  It just is.

There are always new ideas.

There are always bad ideas.

There are always people willing to spread both.

Some of them are fun to be around.

More of us need to act more in line with the joy in our work--and I will be working on that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


As soon as I finish this post and a cup of coffee, I will get on the road to go to New Orleans, Louisiana, to attend and chair a couple of sessions at the South Central Modern Language Association conference.  It will be my seventh time at the conference and my fourth presiding over panels, but even so, I am excited about the prospect of returning to the event--as I have noted.  There are always new ideas to ponder and new people to meet, as well as old friends to see again, and all of these are good.

I am perhaps a bit less excited about being away from home and family.  The plan had been that my lovely wife and I would be going to New Orleans for the conference--together--and would enjoy a somewhat lengthened weekend in the old city, taking advantage of its offerings.  Then we found out about our child, and some of those plans shifted; hurricanes and hand grenades were out, but a muffuleltta was still very much within reach.  Then, fortunately, my wife found work--but work that requires her to report in tomorrow, just as I would be going to my first session and she would have a panel of interest.

So I am going alone.

It would not be the first time I have made a solo trip to a conference, and I doubt it will be the last.  But I have managed to create for myself again a space that functions as an extension of myself, something I have noted is important to me.  More, my lovely wife has grown even more lovely in my eyes in the past weeks; I have never been eager to be away from her, and I am far less so now.  (The promise of being a father has awakened something in me or reinforced it, such that I am more than usually compelled to be at home.  And I am not displeased by the change.)

Still, I will be getting into the car and setting out on the twelve-hour trip from here to there, because I do have a job to do, I do need the development opportunity that the conference provides, and I do enjoy being among the excellent group of scholars the South Central Modern Language Association attracts, exchanging and debating ideas about language, literature, teaching, and culture.  This year, given circumstances, we will have much to discuss.

As I remark in an earlier-linked post, my trip to New Orleans will have me away from my usual pattern of writing for a few days; I may be able to sit and hammer out a post, but I cannot guarantee doing so.  I have every intention of returning to doing so by Sunday or Monday, however, so those few of you who appreciate reading what I write (for which I thank you; tell your friends to join you in it) may rest assured that there will be more to come--Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


One of the things that I and those who, like me, are involved in the academic study of languages and literatures do is to look for good language.  We seek out clever phrasings, embedded multiple meanings, referentiality, and pleasing cadences, edifying ourselves thereby and pointing out to those few who listen to us that this, this is the way to put words together.  We trace out what works to what end and try to puzzle out why it works the way it does--and then we go further to look at what it reveals about the writers, the readers, and the contexts in which both exist that it is so.  Ultimately, we look at what we do to find out about part of who we are--and that is, I think, a worthwhile field of study, regardless of what some sets of people may think.

Conversely, we look at what works badly in the use of language, plumbing it for the same things that we delve into the good to find.  The kinds of mistakes that get made reveal much about those who make them, and the fact that they are perceived as mistakes says a thing or two about those who look upon them and find them lacking.  (What it says about me, I am not sure I want to know.)  And it is unfortunately the case that the bad far outweighs the good in terms of frequency; finding fault is a damned sight easier than finding excellence, as I am sure that many who read this know from the trauma of graded papers now and in the past.

Among those errors are trite phrases--hollow, empty bits of wording that "sound good" but do not actually add to their surroundings.  They are wastes of the time spent in "crafting" them and reading them, and they annoy me greatly--although they also allow me the opportunity to vent a bit of my spleen in jest.  I have done so in this web-space before, I think (I am not going to exert my search-fu to find when I have done so), and I have cause to do it again.

There is, at present, a trashy romance novel in my house (at least one; there may be others).  As is usual for such things, the words between the covers are poorly put together; they are vague and shapeless, offering escapism through affective identification as they foist upon their readership heteronormative presumptions of conduct nobody can effectively emulate, thereby creating dissatisfaction with current circumstances while promoting attempts to embody an "ideal" society whose implications are not explored but which tend to restrict participants to narrowly prescribed roles likely to abrogate their agency.  But it is not with those words--or the bloviating I use to discuss them--that I have to do today.  No, my gripe is with the words on the cover: "Some memories really are unforgettable" [emphasis in the original].  And my gripe can be pointed out well with but a single, simple question: Can something forgotten be called a memory?


Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I have in past years referred to the month of October as Death Month, for it has had an unfortunate tendency to claim the health or life of members of my family.  Both of my grandfathers died in October, for example.  I spent many Octobers ill, and indeed contracted mono at the end of October during my first year of graduate school.  I recall that some rather unfortunate diagnoses came through in October, as well, and what I recall of the family legendry notes that many of the dates of death in earlier generations fell in the old eighth month.

The past months--nearly a year now, actually--have produced quite a shift away from that.  Deaths among those I have known have been happening throughout the year, not confining themselves to the early autumn.  Major upheavals have taken place time and time again since December, and most of them have been far other than pleasant; even those that have been good have been stunning in their magnitude.  Hair-tearing somehow comes to mind.

So as October begins amid a governmental shutdown for me (since I live in the United States), I find that I cannot accord it the same label I have given it in years past.  I do not know that the label will not be accurate--although I very much hope it will not be.  I do know that it no longer serves to differentiate this month from the others, hence my refusal to use the label again this year.  And I cannot say that I am entirely pleased with the change, particularly given the price paid for making it.

Such prices are charged and paid whether or not those who are billed and whose accounts are debited are aware of them or consent to them--as public events have served to return to mind.  I know that my own reserves have been quite depleted of late, sometimes by my own expenditures and for my own goals, sometimes by fees incurred along the way.  And I have trouble balancing accounts; there are factors involved, compounded interest and taxes and penalties and various other numerical trickeries, of which I am ignorant.  (Some will say, no doubt, that it is the foolishness of my seeking training and work in the academic humanities that has left me thusly ignorant, and that I deserve to suffer therefore.  Fuck those people.)  I am not certain that I trust that matters balance out; I feel very much as if I am in the red, as if I have paid more than I have earned, and that I will never be able to earn enough to offset the expenses that I incur simply from being in the world.  Those I take on in the attempts to find work at all--I have long since abandoned any pretense of being entrepreneurial--add to the burden, as I increasingly think true for all.

Where there is any debt relief, I am unsure.  If there is any such debt relief, I am also unsure.