Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Today is the day of the backward look, of course, and I do not find myself immune to it. Fortunately, I have some record of what I was doing around this time in years past; I can content myself with looking over some of what I wrote then.

Four years ago, I commented but briefly on the undesire for nostalgia. After having finally gone through my piles of filing, some of which went that far back, I am reminded of why. There are many ways in which things have changed for the worse in my life since then, although I am minded of the ways in which things are better. I want to think the balance is in my current favor, but if it is, it is not in the parts of my life that can be measured and assessed.

Two years ago saw me amidst a series of deaths. It was not a good time, and other bad news was yet to come. I have no desire to revisit it further.

Last year, saw me make a complicated scatological comment, the truth of which I maintain. It was far more in line with the kind of writing I prefer to embed in this webspace than its antecedents. Whether it is worth reading, of course, is another matter entirely, but it was not so bad to write it.

I am sure that I could pore over the volumes of my journals to look for more records and different of what I have tended to do on New Year's Eves of the past. I have not tended to spend them in revelry; I am not typically a person given to merriment and celebration, as those who know me know. Those who know me best know of no small number of times that I was expected to be festive and was very much the opposite, including this very day several years back. I am pre-Bilbo Bagginsian, after all, perhaps more so now than before, but always in that mold. (Although more so, because the bare-footed small-folk of movie and myth enjoy a good party, and I typically do not.)

I expect that they will reveal that I have spent New Year's Eve much as I am going to spend New Year's Eve this year: quietly at home, working. There is writing to do--and for which to be paid, happily. Ms. 8 is as she is, and so needs care and attention. (She is fine, but she is also less than a year old.) The Mrs. is working a fairly full shift today, so I will need to do something nice for her when she gets home. None of these things argue in favor of my going out and getting drunk with people I do not know (as most of those I do know are away or with their own children and families) or staying home and getting drunk in front of my daughter.

It is not for nothing that I avoid International Hangover Day year after year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


It is decidedly not spring, but I am doing a bit of cleaning, nonetheless. A year and more of papers have piled up, and I am sorting through them. I have the hope that in doing so, I may be able to order my thoughts about the year that is soon to be gone, to make some sense of how things have fallen out these past months. Perhaps in doing so, I can come in some way to have some glimpse of what may come in the next twelve. Perhaps I can figure out ways in which I have erred and determine how I can avoid repeating the mistakes I have heretofore made. Perhaps I can even find a way to do better.

That the paperwork has piled up as it has is a mark more of laziness than of busyness. It would not have been hard for me to keep up with things if I had simply done so, rather than shunting things aside to sit idly and play games that do not challenge me and do not connect me to others. One of the mistakes I made is that I let things slide, thinking "I'll get to it" and then allowing the "it" to slip away from conscious thought. The nagging memory likely served to inform the annoyance I have felt so often, the unease at leaving things undone that I ought to have done making less stable my feelings in the present moment. So I will seek to keep from that error.

There are others to avoid, as well, that have nothing to do with paperwork unchecked. The usual bits about being kinder, or at least less unkind, suggest themselves. Less common is the thought that I might finally purge myself of certain things, to give in wholly to the evil that is in me and cast aside scruple in the pursuit of immediate benefit for myself and my household. As it is, I am caught between the two, having in me too much of each to feel truly at ease with the other. I think I have said it before, and I think I am not alone in it, but the feeling of being between two ideals that are more or less mutually exclusive is hardly the most pleasant. Perhaps I can avoid the error of remaining in it.

There is also the matter of my later writing. I have got to get back to waking up at a decent hour; I have been sleeping in too much and too often of late. I go to bed no later, so I am losing time in the day, and there are many things that need to have me do them. I did so much more and so much better when I did it earlier than I am doing it now. The mistake of remaining asleep as I have done is one which I very much need to correct--especially as it seems to be doing me no good.

Monday, December 29, 2014


The end of the year is approaching, and there is an impetus to look back over the year. There is an impetus to look back more generally, perhaps to this time a year past. Now, as then, I consider the writing that I do, spending time putting words into these pages instead of onto other pages where they might earn money for me and my household or else put me into a position to be better able to earn money for me or my household. Now, as then, I maintain that the few minutes I spend in putting these pieces together serve to prepare me for the other writing work that I do, that they help me order my thoughts and accustom me to writing for audiences other than me. However small they may be.

Writing is a curious thing, though. I write much, not only in this webspace and in the too-infrequent postings to such other projects as this, but also in my work as a freelancer, a scholar, and a teacher. I also write much for my leisure; I have noted being on staff for the online L5RRPG event, and since it is a play-by-post game, nearly all of the activity for it is written. The writing I do in that context may be viewed as "lesser," as not worth attention, particularly against the other concerns, but it is still writing, and it is writing with an audience; it offers practice in things that this webspace and many of the other contexts in which I write do not--and cannot. But that will be another discussion entirely.

Even with the writing, though, with all the practice in it that I do get, I sometimes have trouble finding words to say. I sometimes have trouble finding ideas to try to put into words--or into other words than I already find them. Sometimes, as today and other days I have noted but do not care to find again at this point, I have ideas earlier than I can sit down to treat them, and they vanish between the having and the treatment time. (I am sure I could dress this up in some lovely metaphor, probably a medical one that serves as a biting commentary on health care systems. That, too, is another discussion.) They leave their traces behind, but I am not a hunter to be able to follow them to the animal I have wounded or hope to wound for meat and a trophy. (I cannot escape metaphor, it seems.)

I am not alone in it, certainly. Words are symbols, simulations, and simulations always miss things. They have to do so to be able to be used as simulations--if they have all, then they are the same, and not similar. Words themselves lose, and none of us knows all the words. I and others search for the right ones, the best ones, ones not yet known, perhaps. But there are always better words to be found.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The snow has stopped falling and largely sublimated away, but the temperatures are lower now than when it was coming down--by fifteen to twenty degrees Fahrenheit. (I know I should be doing better than that, but I am yet a product of my upbringing, habituated to systems that make little sense to those outside them.) They are not projected to rise much, so far as I know, so today suggests itself as another well worth spending inside. Even the somewhat drafty, almost wholly uninsulated place where I live is better than being out in the cold and wind, sunlight or no.

I am, admittedly, prone to saying so at most times.

Having more freelance work to do would be good. I had a piece last week; the book I had to read for it was a good one, and the write-up went reasonably well. It has already been accepted, also, and so I have money waiting for me--which I need if I am to be able to continue to support my Mrs. and Ms. 8. More of it would be welcome, particularly on a day like today when the outdoors is not attractive not only to me, but also to many who would normally like to be other than wall-bounded. None presents itself at the moment, though, so I will turn to the many other things that are for me to do. Spending time idly is not to my benefit or others'.

I am fortunate in that I have many other things to do that will keep me occupied and inside with cups of coffee and tea ready to hand and the heater on. This is not the only piece of writing to which I will attend, of course. I have the materials ready to put together comments for the Tales after Tolkien Society blog, Travels in Genre and Medievalism, and there are always scholarly projects that demand consideration (but generally do not receive it in favor of those projects which contribute to household finances). Too, I cannot in good conscience abandon the Mrs. to the housework; I contribute to the mess, so I should contribute to the cleanup, and I eat, so I should help with the gathering and preparation of food. And Ms. 8 needs care and attention, always.

There are also other things, later things, for which to prepare. My travel to the MLA Convention in Vancouver, BC, is upcoming (and I could still use some help with the expense of it), and the next term of teaching is looming. The prep-work for it looks to be eased, as I am currently scheduled to teach three sections of the same course--and a course I have taught more than once before--but it will still need to be done. Thoughts of it have begun to nag at me; I suppose I shall have to address them soon.

It is good, therefore, that there is much reason to remain indoors today. The relative lack of distraction will help.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Snow is falling
Late in the season
Days too late for song
But the song is a bad one, anyway
Falsely celebrating falsehood
Lying and theft thought one thing
Protested as one thing year after year
But in origin another
And the protestors uninformed
Or hypocrites

I remain tucked in a room
And I am sure there is a symbol in there
But I will not explicate it

There are other works to which I will turn
While the snow falls outside
And songs have ceased to be sung

Friday, December 26, 2014


Our revels have not ended
Those that have begun
There are yet some holidays
To carry on the fun
Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day
The Circumcision Feast
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day
Are not among the least
But of course the only one
That matters is now past
The one not mentioned calls for war
In exercised bombast
It is the one that spends the most
And celebrates the longest
And the nature of its protests
Say what devotion's strongest

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Many celebrate today
Calling it Christmas Eve
Wishing for their homes to be invaded
And the robber to make deposits in hanging socks
It is a strange custom

I have no mantle
No fireplace
No chimney
I usually have not had them

I remember wondering how the fat man would come
Feeling around his sack for things for me
Stuff to scatter around the room
Stuff I would have to clean up

It was preparatory
I should have known

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


The Grinch and the Grouch are both green;
There has to be a reason.

Are they cast in corruption's color,
Made to resemble rot and decay?

Are they a borrowing from the Bard,
Skin supplanting eyes?

Are they anti-capitalist comments,
Likened to money and made mean?

And if it is so simple
As green was cheap that day,
The day they were made,
Then there has to be a reason for that, too.

There is always something more to find.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


My parents are visiting from the Texas Hill Country. They are excited to see Ms. 8 in the flesh after some months; they see her on screen fairly often, but there is something different about being able to reach out and touch someone, something that no amount of screen time can replicate. The Mrs. and I are glad to have them up; we are always happy to have people fawn over our baby, whom one physician says is "perfect."

It is good to have independent confirmation of it from another sort of doctor entirely.

Work, oddly, does not continue at the moment. There are no freelance pieces on the docket, and since I am between terms, there are no lessons to plan and none of their leavings to clean up. I am somewhat out of sorts as a result, actually; I am accustomed to having more tasks to do in less time. I am glad, though, because I can attend to family, and I can attend to the other work, The Work, that there is for me to do.

I am going to spend the time with my people, then. I can always write more later.

Friday, December 19, 2014


When I was younger than I am now
I planted a field
Tended it to distraction
And it bloomed after years of work
Offering one flower of exquisite quality
Red petals gold-traced
Folding in white with black marks

I left the field fallow
I had earned a rest from the labor
And I went away
The flower's bloom still set on a shelf
People could see it and know my gardening
And I was content

But I left the field fallow
Not for the year tradition demands
But for two
And while the look of the flower is still as it was
Its scent no longer fills the air
And people do not look at it
And I suffer for it
For what have I done lately?

I am returning to that field again
It is full of weeds and debris
And I am clearing them
As I am clearing smaller plots, besides
For it is time to garden again

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Matters seem not to have improved...

I spent a fair bit of time yesterday filling out job applications--and I anticipate doing so again today. After writing scores if not hundreds of cover letters, I feel like I have a fair handle on how to churn them out; certainly the first and last paragraphs of each read along a formula, while those in the middle follow predictable patterns as do the kinds of jobs for which I apply (medievalist or generalist and generally teaching-heavy). It was quite the annoyance, then, to realize that I had sent several out with typographical errors embedded in them--which I only realized after sending them off. There is, after all, no better time to proofread than after it is too late to do fix any problems...I suppose I will have to be more careful and more diligent with the letters I send out today and in the days to come.

Such errors as I have made do not argue well for me, of course. Errors argue well for nobody, as they bespeak ignorance, inattention, unconcern, or some combination thereof, but typographical errors in an application for a job of writing or of teaching writing show up as particularly egregious. Prevailing conceptions of "good writing," after all, include such phrases as "free of error," and it is upon such phrases that many people fixate. Hence the grammar Nazi, and hence some of Zawacki's comments (to which I return more often than I had ever thought I would). There cannot be any mistakes in a piece of writing and have it still be "good" in the eyes of many--including those who hire--regardless of what the "error-free" content may be.

It is some comfort to think that the letters may not be read, though. My experience of applying for work in academia and elsewhere suggests that I will never head back from most of the places to which I have sent materials, either from the initial contacts or from the occasional attempts at following up on them. Emails and phone calls disappear into black holes of bureaucracy and "other things to do," and I am long past the point of being angry or annoyed at the fact; it is as it is, and I am not in a position to change it. (Seriously, given the several hundred applications that come in for each position, I understand the lack of response.) And even those that do get read will likely be skimmed, so that it is possible that the errors I missed will also be missed by the readers, who are rushing to plow through applications no less than I did in sending them. So it may not matter that I have the occasional flub.

Then again, it might well matter--and it is a legitimate concern for the kinds of jobs to which I apply. And it occurs to me that I perhaps made other errors which I did not realize, having one or more in each set of materials I have sent out. If true, it would explain many things...not that that helps.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I am evidently capable of backsliding.

Yesterday's dental appointment went well enough. My teeth have been cleaned, and I did not have to suffer the indignity of having a rubber chock shoved into my face. The dentist did, however, ask me if I had plans to have my wisdom teeth removed (I do not, both because of cost and because I would like to avoid having surgery done to my face if I can) and noted that I will need to have a filling in one if I do not. (My comment about the symbolism of having a hole in one of my wisdom teeth seems particularly resonant; I still do not want to explicate the idea.) I have not yet scheduled the filling appointment, as I am not entirely certain of my schedule in the next few months, but I imagine I shall have to do so soon. It is not an attractive proposition.

I have a number of such propositions to face. One is going to the convention I am scheduled to attend next month on the off chance that I have an interview; given regular academic practices, I doubt it, but I had to make arrangements to do so before they became unbearably expensive. As it is, I can still use help in recouping my expenses. Because my current position is contingent, I am not eligible for much in the way of travel funding, yet if I do not travel, I will not be able to find a better bit of work to do. The situation begins to recall Heller, although I doubt mine is as well written as his.

That I could use some help does not mean I am not doing what I can do to make things work. I pushed through another freelance piece yesterday; I am waiting to hear about its acceptance, and I will shortly see about snapping up another piece to do for pay. Tonight, I will be giving a tutorial, which will represent a little bit of extra money. In the meantime, around taking care of dishes and a bit of ironing, I will work on a journal article (because a lack of publications is part of what hinders my search for a tenure-line position) or on a creative piece that I have been considering for some time and which I hope to sell to one magazine or another. And I probably ought to send off other job application packets, as well; a stack on my desk still waits for my attention.

I am not indolent. I am not dissolute. I am not simply expecting to get a handout. I am doing what I can do to make things right, but I know that making them right depends on things that are not mine to control. I can only apply; I do not make the hiring decision, and I do not know what it is that will make me a more attractive candidate (other than the publication bit I noted earlier). It is with those things that I could use a hand...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I am slowly clawing my way back to normalcy--or what passes for it with me. I am not there yet, obviously, but I am closer than I was even yesterday, having woken with an alarm rather than out of a haze of fatigue far later than I had wanted to do. And I am writing before I tend to a number of other things (but not all, as some needs allow no delay in their meeting), which is also a good sign.

Today will see me go to the dentist for a regular checkup and cleaning. I expect that the dentist will find another cavity in my mouth; I brush regularly, but floss far less so, and I think I felt the little divot in my enamel form. It does not bother me at this point, but I have no doubt that the dentist will want to schedule a time for me to come in and get it filled--if it is there as I expect. And while I doubt that this dentist will treat me poorly, I am always apprehensive about making such a visit; I do not have the best history when it comes to that particular sort of doctor.

I do not mean to include the idiocies of my childhood in the account. I do not think that any kid does terribly well with the dentist or the orthodontist, although I admit that I was likely worse than most in my responses. No, what comes to mind is an experience I had while living in The City, one I had while I had excellent dental coverage but less excellent dentists to visit. And, as it happened, I had a cavity in one of my wisdom teeth. (I still have all four. That one had a hole in it has some symbolic resonance, I am certain. I am equally certain I do not want to explicate it.) The dentist who worked on it was an Eastern European gentleman, and I am sure that he was competent, but he was notably lacking in patient relations. He barked commands--almost literally, although it might have been a language barrier issue--and, when I had difficulty opening my mouth wide enough to ease his access, he jammed a rubber stop between my jaws.

My lips split, and my lower jaw was sore for a week afterwards.

I changed dentists after the event, as could be expected, and I did so again perforce after moving from The City to Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain. The one I am visiting today is gentle enough, and he expressed shock when I told him of my earlier experience; I do not think the technique is commonly taught in this part of the world, and I do not have any expectation that I will find a chock in my mouth again. Even so, I can already feel a twinge in my lower jaw, and it is not at all a comfortable sensation.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Twenty-seven years, now, my brother has been among us. I have already called to wish him a happy birthday, and I will likely do so again.

With his birthday come the reminders that a holiday is near and that gifts for it are expected. The reminder comes, too, that I have not gotten all of the gifts I need to send out, and I am not pleased with myself. It bespeaks to me a failure of my duties as a member of my family; I benefit from gifts received, and so I ought to contribute to that same system of gift-giving.

I remember many of the gifts I have been given. A great many of them still grace my bookshelves and other parts of my home, serving to remind me of what I owe and to whom. That I track things in such terms does not argue favorably for me, admittedly; with those close to me, I ought to be past the mercantile or mercenary principle. We should be past owing and being owed. Yet I feel a sense of indebtedness, and such is the way I have been shaped that I cannot readily set it aside. Holding onto it does no good, but I know not how to release it.

In the wake of final exams and grades being submitted, student complaints have begun. I could wish to quote some of them, actually; what students think is convincing rhetoric is amusing--or would be were it not so sad. But I expect that there will be trouble once again, and even though I fully expect to have my findings borne out, I do not look forward to once again going through the process of grade appeals. They annoy me greatly--although not as much as offering the kinds of grades that would deflect student complaints (not least because doing so--giving all As to all students--would attract the unfavorable attention of my supervisors, and I already end up in trouble with them).

Truly, it is the most wonderful time of the year. There should be time to work on The Work, and I indeed mean to do so. There should be time to work on more freelance writing; I have a job waiting for me already, and I look forward to getting it done. There should *not* be so much to do about the term just ended; I ought to be able to set it aside in favor of what is to come, but it seems that I cannot. Ah, well, such is the glamorous life in the ivory tower--tacks in the seats and all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


The teaching work is done at last.
The grading work is nearly past.
All that yet remains to do
Is mark exams, but who
Will revel much in such a task?
Who will delight, someone might ask,
In failures found, having to say
To students that once again they
Will have to take a class,
That they did not, in fact, pass?

Friday, December 12, 2014


It is good to write once again at a reasonable time.

Today is the last day I have to be in the classroom for the term, and I am commemorating it by proctoring two exams. One is at ten this morning, the other at four this afternoon. I openly and freely admit to jealousy of my coworkers and broader colleagues who are already done with their work; I very much look forward to joining them in a couple of days. For while it is the case that my in-class work wraps up today, I do not think I will be able to get done the grading that in-class work will require today. It would perhaps not look good if I were to do so; if I can get a stack of exams handled in a day, there is a strong implication that I do not read closely what my students write, and that opens my assessment practices up to substantial challenge.

It is a curious conundrum. I am under explicit deadlines in my grading throughout the semester, and I am under particularly tight deadlines in my grading at this point; final submission is expected before next Wednesday. Students complain about turnaround even when I am within the institutionally imposed deadlines--as if I have nothing else to do or better to do than sit and grace stacks of papers, many of them written the night before or morning that they are due--yet I know, I know that if I were to actually offer a one-day turnaround on exams, even on the kind of exam I am requiring today (a two-page memorandum that answers a number of specific prompts), that celerity would be used to argue against the results provided.

What I have often seen among students as an attitude toward the school is befuddling. They (or those who actually pay for them) claim (and how accurate the claim is is a discussion for another time) to be paying for a service, for access to education, yet students frequently agitate to be dismissed early--if they do not outright leave. They commonly arrive to class late, and while a few minutes can perhaps be forgiven as a result of factors beyond student control, "a few" is a slippery distinction. My "few" and theirs routinely fail to coincide. And the readings and assignments through which understanding is built are more frequently tasks to be avoided or hurdles to be cleared at the last possible moment than paths up the mountain that is competence, proficiency, and mastery. It is, as I have heard remarked (and I apologize that I do not recall where), "the only field where people are happy to get less than they paid for."

But I probably have it wrong here and right here, noting that it is not so much a service that is sought as a product--a degree. It explains much, although I could still hope that students would like a higher-quality product than they seem to want to get.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I did not really sleep in today. I did have to take care of a few things before getting to this bit of writing. I will be taking care of more things soon after; I have a freelance job in progress, and the headache remains.

My wonderful wife has a job interview today; I will be driving her to it and to her current job afterwards. Both of us hope that she is able to get the job, as it would represent a substantial increase in income and an offer of stability that we have long sought. Her getting the position will limit my own job search somewhat, I think, but if it is at the cost of having some security (and only some, given where we live), it will be worth it.

I will continue to deal with exams as I am able. I do need to get the freelance piece done, of course, and that has a tighter deadline than grading exams and inputting scores. But as soon after that is done as I can manage, I will be handling the exams submitted to me yesterday. It should not take long; there were not many submissions, many of them were brief, and I read quickly.

At this point, there is not much else to say, or at least not much to say that I am willing to say here. I will hope for the best from my wife's interview today and move forward from there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The headache is still present, although it has improved somewhat, likely because it is still morning and I slept in (as should be obvious).

My sleeping in has been increasingly common, despite my annoyance with it. I have found it harder and harder to wake when I really ought to, and that despite going to bed earlier than was my wont. Perhaps the fatigue of the term is catching up with me. Perhaps also my body is failing me--and there is other confirmation thereof. I am growing, and neither vertically nor stronger. I really should find more time to exercise, should make it, but when I cannot wake at a decent hour to do so and still attend to the things that need attention, such as my paying work and care for Ms. 8, I do not know how I will do so. It is not as if I can afford to turn down work, and it is not as if I can neglect my daughter, nor are such things to be expected. I understand better why so many in the United States find it so difficult to burn off the calories they take in, and I well understand why they take in so many: they taste good and are inexpensive in the short term.

Seriously, think about the cost of a fast-food hamburger, and then think of the cost of the materials to make a similar hamburger at home. Don't forget to factor in time spent acquiring and cooking the food, or that from cleaning up afterwards; the price of the fast-food burger does so.

I am hardly alone in bemoaning my body. While it is true that I carried a gut even when I was competing in judo, and I was pudgy even while getting ten or more hours of practice in aikido each week, I have been bloating in the last year and a half. I have had to go up a pants size, and I am poised (unhappily) to go up yet another. It is not a pleasant thing to think upon, particularly given the family from which I am descended, with its heart conditions and early deaths even for those who did work out regularly and well, and the other problems attendant on those who have survived so long as they have. But I suppose I have only myself and my laziness to blame, and I suppose that that laziness is the thing that requires vanquishing. As always.

Whatever else is true, I could still use a bit of help. While I am going to try to trim down so that I may not have to buy a new suit for the conference, and I am going to try to improve several parts of my physical health (the end of the term will open up some time for me to do so), my financial situation is still much as it has been--which is not as I would have it. The help would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Something tells me I have an issue with triplicate...

I have been nursing a headache for the past couple of days, which annoys me greatly. I do not know what the cause of it is, either. Aspirin has not helped it, nor has ramping up my intake of water (the Mrs. suggested that it has been a result of dehydration). I have to think that it is stress or tension, but it has greeted me when I work up for the past two days...I do not know. Maybe it is the oncoming end-of-term illness about which I have commented before (although I cannot seem to find the post at this point); I rather hope not, as I have much to do, including a new freelance piece that was just ordered. Whatever its cause, though, the headache is annoying me mightily, and I wish it would go away.

Wishing will not make it so, however, no more than it will make many other things so. It is probably better thus; I know that I have wished for things that would not be to the benefit of the world, and I am certain I am not alone in having done so. (Many of them have involved things deemed impossible by current understandings of physical laws as I have seen them reported. Some of them still do. Others are wholly unethical and probably icky. Again, I doubt that I am alone in such wishing.) The actions I can take to enact some of those wishes are limited, not only by physical law, but also by federal, state, and local statutes and by my own moral and ethical imperatives. Simply put, there is only so much I can do, only so much I can get away with doing, and so much that I am willing to do...and because of the last, I have to accept that my wishing is not in earnest. And in that, too, I doubt I am alone.

Perhaps it is for that reason that I see in the behaviors of some what I see. I can understand immersion in certain narratives that allow for action without consequence, despite the lack of verisimilitude such narratives display for that very reason. I am not immune to it, as might be suggested by my long involvement in role-playing game communities. (This is particularly true of running them; the GM is god, or is at least a god, within the collaborative improvisational storytelling environment Mackay describes.) Acting in such a way as betrays a lack of acceptance of consequences, though, makes for a bad time to be had by all concerned, in games and out of them--and I do not think I am alone in having had the delightful experience of being around such people. I am not alone in being concerned with such things as trying not to be such an actor...but I am more nearly alone than is good, for me or for anyone else.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Today is the first day of exams week, and today is the first day I give an exam during the week. My literature class will get done today, and I will be putting in some final-touch type grades on my technical writing classes in preparation for their examinations on Wednesday and Friday. Thus, while I will be busy, I will not be so busy as I have been, and I will have a bit of time to focus my attention otherwise. This is good, for I have no shortage of other tasks requiring my attention.

I had hoped that some of that attention would need to be given to more freelancing work. I do not have an order waiting for me, however, either through the exchange that gives me most of my work or through the private channels that send occasional bits my way. This disappoints, because I do feel compelled to pick up another few gifts, and having the additional money would be of great help with that. Perhaps orders will come in later today.

Some attention probably ought to be paid to my work on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog, Travels in Genre and Medievalism. I have not posted to it since last month, and while others ostensibly contribute to it, I have not had submissions from other sources for some time. There are ideas growing in the fertile soil of minds; harvest them and grind them into flour for baking or malt them for brewing, that we may eat and drink deeply!

Some also ought to make its way to the ongoing search for a continuing-line job. I remain pleased with the way I am treated where I currently work; I am voicing no complaints against it. But I am on a term contract, as I believe I have noted several times before, and I would like to have less worry about whether or not I will have a job next year. Hence the search. I know that its success will not eliminate worry, but it will diminish it significantly.

A chunk will doubtlessly find itself devoted to the online game I am helping supervise. With over 100 players and some 20 staff (including me), there is a lot going on in that community, and I am entertained to watch it and gratified to participate in it. And I have an idea for a Tales after Tolkien Society piece that may make use of the community; I can turn my work on it into work I should be doing. Possibly. The results will determine if I may or not...

Finals week is the beginning of when I can attend to such things in earnest. It is not without its own challenges, of course, but those challenges are much more easily managed than those of the semester as a whole. Too, there is a near, definitive ending to them, and that is a thing greatly to be appreciated. I am not ungrateful for it, and so it is with somewhat lightened heart that I approach it now, going to do what it is that I need to do.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


I am driven on by a
Green-eyed task-master

Its whip cracks nearly every time
I see another person
Reminding me that
I do not feel myself
Stealing the joy I ought to feel

I know I have much
I should be happy
I should celebrate it
But I feel the lash upon me
And again
And I know of few who smile under such an onslaught

Saturday, December 6, 2014


This is evidently the 700th post to this webspace. Not bad for four and a half years, eh?

Two years ago today, I was reminiscing about middle school and high school band. Last year at this time, I was waxing poetic about the snow. This year, neither applies; I am not wistful about the past, and there is not snow on the ground. The weather is instead fall-like, with temperatures in the 40s F and the sky an overcast grey. It is weather conducive to the work I will need to do, for final exams are next week, and I need to be clear of other grading going into them.

I am not the only one at work, of course. My most magnificent Mrs. will put in a shift today, and Ms. 8 continues the difficult task of growing rapidly, crawling proficiently, and being cute in a devoted and serious way. Indeed, I must go tend to her now, and so I will leave this post as a brief note. All it needs, really.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I have noted that my freelance writing has me read a number of things I would not normally read. Most recently, it has taken me through Preston and Child's Blue Labyrinth. While I know that the series of which it is part sells well and enjoys a great deal of currency, something about the text strikes me as...wrong. It is not merely the Batman-esque protagonist (ridiculously wealthy and possessed of substantial skills in both investigative techniques and hand-to-hand combat), who partakes heavily of the Marty Stu trope (if not actually God-Mode Sue), although I do react negatively to that. (Yet I like many incarnations of Batman--but a reality where illegal aliens land in Kansas farm-towns and Amazons who do not cut off their breasts fly around, invisible jets or otherwise, allows for more...leeway than something ostensibly based in contemporary reality.) It is not merely that those closest to the protagonist partake of the protagonist's nature, becoming the Robin or Batgirl (horrible name, that) to the protagonist's Batman--although that, too, does irk me. Really, there are few challenges (and thus little meaningful conflict) for those such as the protagonist who are already equal to any situation--however unexpected it might actually be.

It is rather that the text uses the words it uses as it uses them, trotting out high-level diction in ways that seem discordant with their context. (Note that I have no problem with high diction in itself. I hardly could, being a literary scholar, and as I have expressed once or twice my appreciation for diction in itself, I cannot complain on that ground alone.) I might expect the highly educated to use such language in speaking with other highly educated people in reference to those matters about which they are highly educated--and Preston and Child do deploy elevated diction thusly. I might expect such diction as a class marker used to remind "the lesser" that "their betters" are, in fact, their betters--and Preston and Child do deploy elevated diction thusly. But for an omniscient third-person narrator to do so, and to do so in attending to the less-educated (although decidedly not less worthy; frankly, the protagonist is an ass if not actually Cohen's douchebag), strikes the eye as discordant. It does not fit, and because it does not fit, something is wrong with the text. (Yes, I do tend to expect narratives to follow their own rules consistently.)

I have to wonder, though, if Preston and Child are not using the device to somehow connect with their readership. As I read the text, I felt as if the narrator and the implied author were somehow sneering at those who do not understand the words being used; the diction becomes a class marker not only within the text, but also within the context of readership. A reader could easily become complicit in that sneering disregard, so that the diction becomes a way to make the reader feel good by self-promotion; understanding the words makes the reader "smarter" than those who do not understand the words. It is not something that I can recommend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I wrote in my journal last night that "I feel I must confess that I look forward to the end of the term," something I think I have indicated in earlier posts to this webspace. Soon after, though, I found myself musing on the phrasing "feel I must confess," as if looking forward to having time off is somehow a sin for which I must atone. The teaching I do is supposed to be a calling, something only done by those who love what they do (else why would they suffer such low wages for it?), and there is something awry in wanting release from the ostensibly beloved. Too, I am acculturated such that diligent work is virtuous--the more so the more so. Time off thus comes off as something of a lapse in virtue. And I am aware of cultural currents that flow in such ways as make teaching, particularly at the collegiate level, "not really work," so that to look forward to time away from it is disingenuous.

I do not know if I have ordered my points well. Whether I have or not, though, and whether or not I have a complete list (it is not likely), I can identify things that prompt the feeling of needing to confess, of having somehow sinned and thus of being in need of penitence. I do not subscribe to a doctrine that can prescribe a particular number of incantations or some specific physical hardship to redress what I seemingly cannot help but feel is error (although I know it is not, but knowing and feeling are different things entirely, and the latter almost always triumphs over the former). I do, however, have other work to do than that which I do in the classroom, and I will be attending to that in plenty as my means of making right the purported wrong I commit in looking forward to being away from the classroom. Because I should not ever not be working, right? Especially if I am going to be asking for a bit of help, yes? I dare not look like I am lazy or wasteful, after all.

But all this is is whining, of course. It is a feeble attempt by one who sucks uselessly at the public teat (for I teach in a humanities field at a state school) to justify his impending indolence. Such people ought to feel shame at not contributing, at receiving benefits without working. That kind of thing is only for those whose incomes come from investments, after all, and who are famous for whatever it is that makes people famous. But they are of a different sort altogether, not bound by the strictures that apply to those who work--or who should work. Those people have jobs to do, and they had better do them; there are others waiting to take the jobs if they will not or cannot, and they will not be looking forward to having time off from work every now and again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I know that I am posting later than I normally do; the morning has been busy. I have already completed a bit of freelance work today, which please me no end, and I have been working with the online L5R PbP RPG I have noted before. It has formally begun, so what leisure time I have is being devoted to it at this point--and it helps me by giving me practice writing, negotiating competing demands from international audiences, and storytelling (so I need not feel quite so guilty about doing things other than work). And I have been attending to other things, as well.

That said, I do feel some obligation to make a post to this webspace. I have, as I recall, waxed poetic about the demands of writing for a public audience--even one as small as mine tends to be (I do look at the reader statistics thoughtfully provided by the platform). More, I find myself much in mind of something I have seen attributed to the Good Doctor: "I write for the same reason I breathe--because if I didn't, I would die." My feeling for writing is not quite so strong (obviously, or I would be a *lot* more productive), but it is of the same sort; I write because I have a need to do so, and I write here because I feel a need to do so. Thank you, then, dear readers, for helping me meet one of my needs.

There are other needs, of course. The Maslovian hierarchy applies, I think, at least in part; my writing is a higher-order need than others I yet feel. For I am not at all certain of my security or of the esteem in which I and others hold me. (I have spoken to anxieties about the former on more than one occasion--not all of the training, formal and informal, I received as a graduate student has been to my benefit.) And I offer the statement not as a plea for cheap statements of validation; any that would come in the wake of this piece would register as shallow and reflexive, iterations of pity and condescension (whether intended so or not). It is simply a thing that is.

Perhaps I write as a backwards approach to the Maslovian, using what I perceive as my "thing to do" as a means to secure the ostensibly more fundamental levels of need. And perhaps that is why I remain ill at ease; I am approaching things in reverse. (It may be that Maslow is a bit off. I am not informed enough about psychological issues to be able to speak to that end; I would welcome input from those who are.) Whatever the reason or effect, however, I write because I must, here and elsewhere; I have no doubt that I will continue to do so, and I nurture the hope that it will work to my benefit and that of those for whom I care.

Monday, December 1, 2014


The last week of teaching's beginning today.
The current semester's almost passed away.
Exams will soon happen; then students will play,
For the last week of teaching's beginning today.

The hard work of grading is going away.
In research and writing I will spend the day
Instead of planning that soon goes astray,
For the last week of teaching's beginning today.

It's odd to be happy, as some folks may say,
To see that the class-work is going away,
But why not be happy? The work doesn't pay.
O! The last week of teaching's beginning today.

The last week of teaching's beginning today.
It will not be students that fill up the day
But comfort and rest, and so say "Hooray!
The last week of teaching's beginning today!"

Saturday, November 29, 2014


The fight continues, of course. There has been a reduction of force on both sides, some losses and some attrition. The siege will have to endure.

Something else that continues is Ms. 8's growth. My wife and I were reviewing pictures of her last night, and how much she has grown amazes me. It is not just her physical growth, although that is impressive; she has nearly quadrupled her mass since delivery, and she both crawls with exceeding proficiency and pulls up with aplomb. Her personality, seemingly in place from the womb, is growing stronger and more distinct, as well. In the recent visit from family, she showed herself capable of outright indignation; her grandfather corrected her, and she glared at him for a full minute. (It was an improvement over the screaming she had been doing at him.) She exhibits a determination remarkable to see; I could wish some people I might name would pursue their goals as diligently as she does hers.

Another thing that continues, and far less happily than my daughter's development, is the work of grading. While I managed to knock out two sets of submissions yesterday, I yet have two more to complete. I should be able to get at least one of them done, if not both; how effective I can be at the task will depend largely on my daughter's cooperation. She needs a fair bit of supervision if I am not to leave her in her playpen (and I am told by many to whom I am inclined to listen that I ought not to do so overlong), so I can only really work when there are others to watch her or when she is asleep. Since my wife's work also continues today, I have to rely upon the latter for a time. It is not a problem, per se, but it does impose some...interesting perturbations upon my schedule, for Ms. 8 no longer takes a regular nap. She sleeps, but not in a predictable pattern anymore. She used to, and I miss it.

How much else will keep going on, I am not sure. Some of it will doubtlessly be stuff that would be better to have ended. (Much of it, actually.) Some will be stuff that goes on unnoticed. (Much this, also, largely because we do not or cannot pay attention; not all is revealed to us, but that does not mean it is not.) I entertain some hope, though, that some things that are good, insofar as anything in this world is good, will continue. I count my daughter and my marriage among such goodness, and I count my work on The Work among it, as well, even if the last has not gotten the attention it probably ought to recently. Still, if I can but get the grading done, I can turn to it once again in joy--for there is much of The Work yet to do, and I am sustained in large part by doing it.

Friday, November 28, 2014


A fight has been fought and a battle won
But the war is not over
There are holdouts left that must be cleared
And they will have reinforcements
Additions to their numbers from different companies and regiments
Fresher and seeming more worth the engagement
Especially after days
And weeks
And perhaps months
Of fighting against the remnants
Of yesterday's forces
And the bloat attendant upon that fight

Thursday, November 27, 2014


To those who celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!

To those who will question the phrasing above: There are people outside the US whom I know and who do not celebrate the holiday. And there are people inside the US who understandably have difficulty finding things for which to be thankful--if they can do so at all. Nor am I certain that they ought to do so--and you ought not to be. It is not your life they live. It is not your circumstances they face. It is not yours to dictate whether they are or are not thankful for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Nor is it yours to dictate whether those circumstances are of their own making; you do not know. And you likely do not want to know--or, rather, you might like to know but are unwilling to do what it takes to know.

And I do know that.

To those who do not celebrate the holiday: fine. I hope your day is good to you and allows you to do some good in the world.

I will be working to do some good for my family. Freelance work continues, and I have a project to do. (I should be able to get it done today.) Its completion will allow me to support my wife and my daughter just a little bit better, and I will admit to being more concerned with matters at the scale of my home than those of the regional, national, or world levels which I cannot meaningfully affect without setting aside the responsibilities which are mine to discharge. (And I am aware that such rhetoric is a tool used to oppress, albeit at lesser levels than others historically documented and unfortunately still ongoing; my deployment of it in reference to myself is a marker of how I have been shaped by such systems, I know.)

To those who will recoil at the thought of working on a holiday: Needs must. Am I not supposed to be diligent in providing for the needs of my family? Do their needs stop because it is a day appointed for celebration? Should I not use the resources available to me--the presence of family in the home--to make easier the work of supporting that family, relying on those here to tend to those here while I apply the skills I have to the task of earning income for them? Is that not the way appointed? And, after all, I am simply sitting at a desk, reading one piece to write another as I do in most of the work that I do; is this really so onerous a task that I need so much respite from it? Am I not derided as part of a class for doing that very thing and presuming to call it work? Why, then, should I leave off from it for a holiday, since it is not "real work" in the eyes of many? More, how should I do so, when there is much to do for the support of my family, to ensure that they have somewhat with which to celebrate if they are going to do so?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Today is payday, as it is the last business day of the month. That means it is also "pay the bills day," which is far less happy an occasion. Still, the task is done, and I think I have a bit more money after doing so this time than last. It is a pleasant thought, and one I hope to have happen again.

The Mrs. and I have company over; since she is working today and Friday, we were not able to arrange to be elsewhere for Thanksgiving. We are still seeing family, though; my father-in-law and stepmother-in-law are visiting from Arkansas. It is good to have them over, even if Ms. 8 is having what seems to be a typical infant reaction to new people in her space.

I think she is learning too much from the cats.

Work continues, of course. I have a freelance job to do in addition to the grading that suddenly blossomed on Monday. And the other project still needs attention, as do job applications (because I am still looking for continuing-line work, hence the trip to Vancouver for which I am still seeking assistance) and yet other projects. I am fortunate that the present company works at a school and so understands the demands that classroom work imposes outside the classroom.

We get so many holidays, those of us who teach.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Christmas is only a month away
The shopping season's growing short
Black Friday has not happened yet
With bargains, sales of every sort.
Families will gather soon
And marvel at the gifts they bring
And how much spent and how much saved,
For the one important thing
Is how the money moves around.
Lavish gifts will show the wealth
Of those who give, and frugal gifts
Demonstrate concern for health
Financial, marking as the poor
Those who give them. Those
Who get them have the chance
To act better the part that knows
"'Tis better to give than to receive."
The Christmas adage rings more true
For wealth from poor than from reverse--
As likely it will ever do.
But Christmas is a mere month away.
The shopping season's growing brief.
Black Friday has not happened yet.
The sales are coming; what a relief!

Monday, November 24, 2014


I am looking forward to a relatively easy day at campus today. It will be the only day this week that I meet with my students, and I will be administering student evaluations (as much as I ever actually administer them). All four classes have large projects coming in, though, and so much of the rest of the week will be taken up with grading. Thursday will probably not, as I do have every intention of enjoying such fruits of the harvest as are mine to take, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. But the rest of the week...oh, yes. Grading. And work on a project that is due at the end of the month; that needs doing, too.

Honestly, though, I do not expect to have many students in the rooms today. Attendance was poor on Friday, and what I heard from the relatively few students on campus is that many are simply taking the week off, despite school being open today (Monday) and Tuesday. A number of my colleagues have reportedly cancelled classes for those days, which skirts the raw edge of acceptable practice; convenience is not really a good reason to lay out, although those who have the leave time are entitled to it, certainly. But because I remain in a contingent position, I am wary of doing such things, and I have already missed several days this term (illness and travel take their tolls). And I will not bemoan having fewer students today; it will allow me to get done what I need to get done all the more quickly.

"What I need to get done" consists of the aforementioned student evaluations, which will happen after attendance-taking and a brief breakdown of the projects submitted. I always do a brief recap of events when major assignments come in, and I do occasionally take into consideration what the students tell me about them. Only occasionally, though; the myriad "It's too hard" ring too poorly in my ears for me to heed them. Indeed, I think sometimes that they want to be spoon-fed pap that they will then vomit back up before taking anything of it into themselves, as though they view education as a sullying of their supposedly sacred selves. It is an uncharitable thought, perhaps, but one that accords with the actions I see from many in my classroom.

I ought to be better, I know. I ought to approach my classroom as an engine for change, a venue in which I can reach into young minds and awaken the potentials in them, touching lives so that they can touch others, and any others of a number of wonderful clichés that I heard bandied about pedagogy classes and read bandied about although surrounded by layers of turgid prose (per an old professor of mine) in pedagogical theory. But I cannot. I have not the power to continue to do so amid the many other things to which I must attend--including those students who *do* open their eyes and *see* when they are in my classes. And so I look forward to an easy day today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


The semester is winding down
Next week is truncated
The following week is dead
The one after examines
And then it is done

It is the calm before the storm
The hurricane's eye
For papers and projects are due Monday

I breathe deeply in this small space
I will need it

Friday, November 21, 2014


A year ago, I wrote of the effects coffee had been having on me. Now, as then, I have been drinking more tea on my days away from the office (to call them "days off" is a misnomer, as I and many others have noted), and now, as then, doing so has largely staved off the negative consequences of over-caffeination while still allowing me access to the benefits of caffeine consumption. Yet I feel myself to be less productive now than then, and I do not know if it is an effect of my being a year older or if it is a result of my being a year more inured to the stimulant. Nor do I know what can be done about either, if anything.

There is a part of me that suggests my stimulant-enabled successes could be continued, even enhanced, by recourse to more powerful drugs; it reminds me that my lovely wife, even though she holds a master's degree in English and another in linguistics, works as a pharmacy technician and thus has access to such substances. It is not one of the better parts of me, I know; the side-effects of such chemicals are not likely to be advantageous to my family life, both in terms of the legal troubles attendant upon their misuse and in the alterations to my psyche they would doubtlessly impose. Neither my Mrs. nor Ms. 8 should be subjected to such travails--yet I cannot help but wonder if I would not do better at supporting them did I avail myself of such things.

Perhaps I am paranoid about my situation that I even tangentially entertain the idea of taking other stimulants than caffeine to increase my productivity. Perhaps also I am embedded more fully in certain myths about work and the work ethic than I had realized or noted (here, here, and here, among others). I am not going to heed the part of myself that suggests I take on another drug addiction to help support my financial addiction--as I remark above, I am passingly aware of the consequences, and I do not deem them acceptable--but I confess to having such a part, and I worry about what it indicates about me that I have it and that I react to it as I do.

It is one more thing about which I worry for myself and for my family (who I flatter myself depend upon me). There are many such, as I think I have given evidence. And I probably ought to let them alone; considering them does me little if any good, and they are as nothing compared to the worries I know others have. I have made remarks to that effect, and more than once. Yet I am still who I am, and it seems that among the parts of that person is a worrier, and an introspective one trained and habituated to follow ideas almost out of reflex. And that has some interesting implications about the way things happen...

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Today is the National Transgender Day of Remembrance. I am a cis-hetero-male of the white middle class and from the middle of the US; I am the unmarked. But I recognize that it is wrong, flatly wrong, to persecute those who do not conform to "traditional" gender binaries because they do not conform to them. I admit that I have little if any understanding of the circumstances and situations of those who are transgendered; even with the ways in which I have been made to feel less, I have never not felt male. When I have spoken with or worshipped with members of trans communities, the fact of trans-ness has not much been the topic treated; we were doing other things entirely. So I do not claim expertise in the matter. But that does not mean I cannot recognize the systemic wrongs that enable discrimination against trans persons because they are trans. It does not mean that I cannot pause for a moment to condemn those wrongs or to think on those who have suffered them. It does not mean that I cannot consider what little I can do to right the wrongs as they occur within me and around me, whether through working to redress ignorance or to deter willful bad behavior.

Violence and other discrimination against trans persons comprise one of the many ways in which the dominant culture of the United States is in need of correction; that culture, from which I am ostensibly positioned to benefit through standing at the focus of many of its normalizing assumptions (I am the target audience of the performance and easily swap in for the presumed originator/s of many of its tenets), does much to normalize through rejection of what is different, and there are many differences to be found. At its most forgivable, the rejection proceeds from a lack of understanding, and I admit to my own culpability in that regard; I do not know, and so I likely end up offending through that ignorance. And there are limits to what any one person can know; we all of us have work to do (paid and validated by the dominant culture or otherwise), and the attention demanded by that work and given to it cannot be otherwise spent. But much of the rejection is based not on ignorance but unwillingness to learn, and that is not forgivable. One may be pardoned for not knowing if not exposed to knowledge, and one may be forgiven (if to a lesser extent) fro trying to learn and not having mastered material, but forgiving those who refuse to make the attempt...I am not so good a person as to do so. When that refusal erupts as violence against persons, it is clearly wrong. When it manifests as differentiation of legal protection, it is also clearly wrong. Both happen, and entirely too much. Hence the Day of Remembrance. Hence the activities that surround it. And hence my own small contribution, for whatever good it may actually do in the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Not as much is made of Gettysburg this year as was last

The speech is no less important
Either as model for writing
Or as encapsulation of an ideal
To which we aspire in name
And which we do not achieve

Its age is not a convenient number
And so it remains curiosity only
A school-child remembrance much obscured
By the minutiae of adult life
And "adult life"

Even when it is convenient
And trotted out again in solemn celebration
For it is an epitaph upon many graves
A eulogy
It is not much honored

To honor it would be to embody it
To keep in mind its tenets
To live in such a way as brings credit to those for whom it was spoken
To act in such a way as means
Such sacrifice is never again needed

We do not do so.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


As I was in the shower this morning, I considered the piece that I just read for my freelance work--another police procedural. My mind wandered thence to the idea of detection, but not so much in the police-sense as in the sensory sense, and I thought about the kinds of words that get used to describe sensory experience. They are raw and unmolded thoughts, more fit for the first part of this blog's title than the last, but because they fit it, I feel no compunction about offering them:

To say that we detect a thing is an accurate statement, but broad (for it obscures the means of detection) and somewhat sterile (it evokes techno-arcane scanning devices that work at long distances or at very small scales, neither of which translates well into human experience). It is a vague word, a word used when other words do not quite fit--and it does not fit well, itself. It is, in a sense, a too-large jacket; it covers what needs covering, but it hangs oddly and looks strange. Perhaps there is something beneath it that should not be seen...

Yet other words for senses have problems, as well. To say, for instance, that we feel a thing may be accurate, and it does make more visceral the sensory experience, tying to a shared sensation. (Except for lepers.) But it also has overtones of the non-serious, the hallucinatory, the surreal; it is difficult to verify that a thing is felt or that it has been felt, and because much that cannot otherwise be perceived is called "feeling," it may or may not be trustworthy.

Smelling, seeing, and tasting seem to me to be more accurate for what we tend to call "detection." As I have seen it used, "detection" involves identifying small particles of things amid many others or amid empty space, and smelling, seeing, and tasting all do that. Tasting has a particularly intimate association--there is something about the work of the mouth that makes for peculiar closeness--but seeing and smelling do not. And, frankly, smelling does not get enough attention (possibly because it is not the most acute human sense, but I am not up enough on the research in that line to be sure). Perhaps it would be fitting to say that the sensors "smelled" the thing rather than simply "sensed" it, as the latter term has even more surrealist connotations than does "felt." I know that anthropomorphization rankles, and that to ascribe biological characteristics to the non-biological goes too far in that direction...

As I note, the thoughts are raw and unformed, more fitting of ravings than of lucid prose. But there is something to consider in the way we use the words we use.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I am doing what I can to ramp up my job search amid the oncoming end of the term (only three weeks to go--frightening), my freelance work (another project due Wednesday, and I have hardly begun), and some service projects with which I am struggling (Travels in Genre and Medievalism--please contribute--and scouring journal articles for annotations). As part of that, I will be traveling to the MLA convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in January, where a number of the jobs for which I have applied will be conducting interviews. And because I am not wealthy, I am asking for help to support that effort.

It is not a thing with which I am thrilled. I dislike having to outright ask for help, to admit that the way I have done things hitherto has not sufficed to my needs and the needs of my family. And I anticipate objections, namely that my asking confirms the parasitic nature of my professional endeavors and that I am seeking too high a post instead of starting at the bottom and working my way up. I do not know how to address the first, except to say that a single instance does not a whole profession make; that I need to ask at this point in time, after having worked diligently in the field for many years and not at all often getting the "time off" which is thrown in the faces of those whose work is like mine, does not mean that I always do or that all do. Hasty generalization is a fallacy. But for the second objection, I do have a response; I did start at the bottom, first working as an adjunct at a two-year college, then earning a full-time theoretically-continuing spot there, then moving (slightly south of laterally, professionally) to a full-time contract position at a state university. If I am supposed to be moving up, and attendance at the MLA convention, despite financial concerns and the socioeconomic stratification they entail, is almost prerequisite for doing so (there are some jobs that do not oblige me to interview there, but many will only interview there), then it should not be thought odd that I seek to travel there. And I can but go where the work is--or promises to be. Or am I a serf, bound to a single place in the world and expected to toil on behalf of feudal/corporate masters and with few rights or hope?

As I note, I am not happy to ask outright for money. I am not happy to admit to my own incapacities of the moment. But I would be far less happy to "suck it up" and not make the solid, honest attempt to secure a better future for myself and my family. My own pride as a person is far less than my responsibility as a husband and father; I am annoyed and only annoyed at sacrificing the one--which has done me little good, I might add--for the other. And I would still appreciate the hand up--I am, after all, looking for a shot at work.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


There are days I want to sleep a bit more than I usually do. Today was one of them, and I feel better because of it. For the most part: I was roused not long after one o'clock this morning by Ms. 8 crying out in her sleep. She remained asleep entirely, so I did not disturb her, but she very much disturbed me. And I was jolted awake again not long after four this morning by a sharp cramp in my left calf; it is still a bit sore, in fact. Aside from those interruptions, though, I had a good night of sleep, and I let myself doze later into the morning than I normally do.

That I do not usually sleep so long as I did for my last sleep is something I have repeatedly discussed. I am normally a morning person, working best in the quiet hours around the dawn, and attending to Ms. 8 and her needs means that I cannot simply decide to sleep in on a weekend morning with the impunity that was once mine to wield. Too, I usually dislike the fact of my need for sleep; there is so much more that I could do with the time, and I seem to miss out on things while my body forcibly replenishes itself. I rather dislike missing out on things, and I like even less seeing things unaddressed that my efforts ought to address fully, but needs must.

From time to time, however, when I am ill or I am greatly weary, and other circumstances align exactly right, I do let myself sleep more. Instead of the six or so hours I normally get, I sleep for eight or nine, and wake more fully refreshed. I do not leap straight to work, as I usually do (and most mornings I start to work before I start to write in this webspace), but take my ease for a bit. It is something some might suggest I do more often, and they are likely right that I ought to do so, but I know that I will feel guilty for the spent time before today is done. Even now, there are things to do, and I am not doing them. Nor will I likely do so for a while.

For a moment, though, I can set such concerns aside and sit with a cup of coffee in the chilly morning, writing idly and contemplating the state of the world. I can enjoy for a brief time having woken at my ease and refreshed before I gird myself up and plunge yet again into the mind-work that I do to support my wife and daughter and the tending to the latter's needs (since she, still not yet nine months old, cannot do so for herself). It does not happen often, after all (although part of me still says "more than it should"), and I think that I may be forgiven the occasional indulgence of this sort.

Friday, November 14, 2014


It makes sense that I seem to do my better writing--I find that I have more to say and an easier time of saying it--when I am writing about the things I read and have read. Multiple degrees in English ought to be good for something after all, even if they do not make me immune to the occasional typographical error. (Those who read this blog know that it makes use of its own earlier entries from time to time. Poring over the blogroll for them reveals points of authorial inattention to details of usage. They doubtlessly indicate laziness or too much haste, and those who will engage in the fallacy fallacy--among whom are many pedants I know directly or by report--will perhaps be better served to read otherwise.) And it seems to be the case that I have more readers when I do make such comments than when I do not, if the readership statistics this platform offers me constitute anything like a reliable indicator.

There are times, though, when what I read chokes my throat with anger and knots my hands into claws that an old and angry part of me wants to wrap around throats and squeeze. I feel my chest tighten and a grimace creep across my face, and I know that my pupils open further the blackness within my eyes. And it is not at fictional exploits that this happens; I get annoyed, of course, and voice that annoyance with keyboard and tongue, and I am extravagant in my annoyance. But I do not react to that the way I do to reports of the all-too-real stupidity of the world, stupidity that, once permitted (and almost certainly permitted because we have to think of the children--and I am a father who rails against it), often spreads until it threatens to choke out what little intelligence finds purchase in the thin and rocky soil offered to it anymore. (Yes, I know I near falling down the slippery slope into something like an appeal to tradition. Note the qualifiers. There is some small hope, even yet.)

I do not do well to address the issues that provoke such reactions while amidst such reactions. I am not doing so now. I am, instead, attempting to distract myself from them for a bit so that my unconscious or subconscious mind can work to find some redress to the problems presented. (I follow the Good Doctor's "The Eureka Phenomenon" for this idea.) Perhaps, in time, I will return to them with a clearer mind and find a way to speak against them that does not make of me the kind of ravening idiot that I believe many of those who perpetuate such stupidities to be. But it is more likely that other concerns will shove them aside, new indignities piled upon them, and they will be pressed down into the substrata from which, in time, distilled bitterness may be pumped or hardened, cutting bits of it mined out and polished to a brilliant sheen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


It seems that more people read what I write when I write prose than when I write verse. That they still read when I write verse tells me I am not so far gone as a Vogon, but it still suggests that more lines on the page ought to be sentences than free verse or iambic pentameter. (Not that I do much of the latter.) For today, at least, I will take the hint.

I have on occasion noted histories of things on my shelves and in my home. I do entertain the idea that I might put together some collection of creative nonfiction that discusses a number of them, but that will have to wait until a large number of other projects are completed (including a freelance project I really need to write today). In the meantime, though, I can relate a bit about one of them (and it *may* make it into the hypothetical later collection, although I will doubtlessly amend it and improve it; the kind of writing I do in this webspace is not exactly as polished as I would have it be to be in print):

I often note that I "cut my teeth on Asimov," and it is more or less true; an early memory has me looking at the expanded collection of Foundation novels my mother had just after Foundation's Edge came out, thirty years after the Foundation Trilogy. Even now, I have copies of a number of the Good Doctor's books on my shelves, including paperbacks of the Foundation series--including Forward the Foundation. It is a first paperback run of the work, and it is battered and abused through repeated reading, the sweeping art-insert behind the front cover long since gone. (I know that I will at some point need to replace it. I do not look forward to doing so.)

That copy is one of two I received when I was ten or eleven. Both my parents and one of my grandmothers had bought a copy for me, the former as part of a complete set of the Foundation novels (which says much of who and what I have been and still am, as well as the support for it I was provided), the latter as a single item. I recall being happy to receive both as well as confused as to whose gift to keep; I no longer recall whose I did, which copy still manages to be on my shelf more than twenty years later.

It does not matter, really. The important thing is that I have had as many years of enjoyment from the piece--which I contend betrays the Good Doctor's awareness of his impending death from complications of AIDS (he had several surgeries and thus several transfusions in the 1980s, after HIV emerged in force but before physicians knew to screen blood for it)--as I have. I have said that I will need to replace the copy at some point; the day will come when the binding fails and the pages flutter away, or the pages will tear and no tape will save them. But a volume held for decades is not one so easily set aside, and I am something of a bibliophile in any event...I do not relish the thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


I spent most of yesterday marking papers. There are times I do not know why I do so; few if any of the students read the comments, and fewer yet actually work to correct the problems identified in their work. My efforts on the students' behalf in that regard are therefore frustrating.

Now that I think on it, though, I do have an idea why I work grading as I do. It provides evidence that I can use to defend myself in the event of a grade appeal. It affords me a paper trail I can use to rebut student assertions that the way I have treated their papers is wrong, somehow; it allows me to reassert my authority when it is challenged.

There will be some, of course, who will say that the idea of professorial authority is flawed, that in a student-centered classroom it is the students who have the authority--and that more because of numbers and purportedly democratic ideals than because of any authority that inheres in a position. I doubt that many if any of them change grades on a student's say-so or that they acquiesce to grade appeals without contestation, though. I have never heard of such a thing happening, and I have read much of the theory and reports of its purported application. Because it seems to me that proponents of wholly student-centered, antiauthoritarian teaching would report doing so as a way to enhance their own ethos, the lack is, to my mind, telling.

Others will say that the idea of professorial authority is flawed for other reasons entirely, namely that the professoriate as a whole (but particularly in the academic humanities) is a corps of the fraudulent. We are parasites sucking at the public teat for the most part, either treading over ground already well trodden, finding clues to things that they were never taught where the footsteps of others have destroyed any evidence--or we are wasting our time with modernist trifles and dragging the young along with us as we indoctrinate them into some brainwashed cult of hyper-socialist personality directly and specifically aligned against the "values on which this country was built." (And since quite a bit of that involved genocide and slavery, yes, most scholars of the academic humanities I have known have problems with the "traditional" narrative of US history; genocide and slavery are bad, remember? Ignoring their presence is also bad. Why do people want us to be bad and to endorse badness?) I have to think that many of them did badly in their coursework, and even if they succeeded later on, they still carry the marks awarded them. (I intend the pun.)

Well do I know that old wounds hurt long.

Flawed or not, I do operate in a context that requires me to present an air of authority. As such, I do have to maintain that authority, and so I have to be ready to meet challenges to it. Hence the grading and the work--long and vexing--I do to enact it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It is Veterans Day in the United States. (The usage still bothers me.) This year, I think I will re-blog a comment made by a colleague of mine, himself a veteran of the US Navy:
Tomorrow when you get the urge to thank a veteran, instead call or write your politicians and tell them 2 things: fulfill our government's obligation to provide excellent care for those injured and make damn sure to not send another into these endless, unnecessary wars. That's better than a "thank you."
He is right, of course, and given how many people who are on their way into office claim, loudly and repeatedly, to care about armed services personnel, things damned well ought to get better soon. The kind of thing where backlogs of care cases happen and are covered up due to a lack of appropriate support should end.

If, you know, those who have the power of the purse will actually open it so that the nation can meet its obligations and, you know, take responsibility for fulfilling the terms on which it took the lives and health of those who volunteered to serve.


Monday, November 10, 2014


Today is my father's birthday, and I am glad he is around to see it. I have said so once or twice before, even if not as eloquently as I ought to have or as often. I have not, after all, always been a good son and diligent; it took entirely too long for me to begin to treat decently a fundamentally good and decent man who has done little but work for the betterment of my mother, my brother, and me in the last thirty-something years. But I am better, now, and I am thankful to have had such a man in my life.

Sentimentality aside, today promises to be a busy day. A colleague and I have planned to exchange observations and letters of recommendation based on them, the idea being that doing so will help us to get jobs. One of the advantages to my current work setup is that I am in close, sustained contact with other academics who are not in my field of study; we all teach classes other than those to which we are optimally suited, and so we function as peers not in competition with one another. In theory, our comments about each other's scholarship and teaching should carry some weight because we are sufficiently skilled as to be able to assess one another yet sufficiently detached to be able to offer some reasonably objective commentaries. So there is that.

The observations are in addition to the usual work of teaching, which includes some grading that needs to get done. I spent several hours on the task yesterday and cleared out one assignment, but there was already another one waiting, and I have yet another coming in today. Freelancing picks up again tomorrow, so I have a bit of leeway on that score, but I also have my own scholarship to attend to, including trying to put together another post for Travels in Genre and Medievalism (please go read it, and if you have any ideas, let us know). I have a notion about some music I'd like to write up, but the idea is as yet too nebulous in my head to take treatment. And there are always other papers to write, other pieces I am called to compile and create.

Somehow, of course, it will all get done as it should. If nothing else, I need to be sure that Ms. 8 has what she needs, and I cannot do that without attending to the work laid out for me; she is a powerful motivator, my little octopus. And I retain some hope that my efforts will allow me to find a position that enables those efforts yet better, that the work I do will help me to find more and better work to do (which sounds silly, I know, but there it is). I have to; the alternative would not exactly be a credit to the example set for me by today's birthday boy, and he deserves some credit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Freelance work continues, which is good because I need the money.

I have commented before (here and here, for instance) about the ways in which the freelance work I have been doing has expanded my reading repertoire. (It is an odd thing for someone who studies and teaches literature for a living would speak of such a thing or feel the need to do it, admittedly.) Although I cut my teeth on Asimov and read his Foundation corpus and Tolkien's Middle-earth corpus on a more or less annual cycle, and such works are increasingly part of the main stream of US popular culture (more the latter than the former, as it happens), and although such writers as Chaucer and Shakespeare and such works as Beowulf and Le Morte d'Arthur remain known if not exactly enjoyed by most, the stuff that I read and study* is not normally regarded as being really part of popular literature. What I read for my freelance work, however, is.

Most recently, I read for the freelance write-ups Gillian Flynn's 2009 Dark Places, and I found it strangely compelling. The protagonist is hardly a sympathetic character, although she is positioned such that she really should be; typically, the victim of substantial physical and emotional trauma evokes a level of pity almost inevitably associated with sympathetic portrayal, but such is not the case in the text. Instead, the character wallows in the effects of the trauma, not so much because she cannot surpass it as because she is unwilling to surpass it. She is offered ample opportunity, both in the narrative as it unfolds and in the presumed back-story, to seek help and find a way to navigate trauma so as to enter more fully into the world and help herself to be more than the victim of circumstance. She repeatedly refuses, accepting her status as acted upon throughout the text and only loosely moving into being the actor.

Part of me recoils from the character, likely as a result of the deeply ingrained habituation of my upbringing and my participation in the main stream of US popular culture noted above. (Being defined as several ways Other** by that main stream requires engagement with it.) Another part recognizes the characterization as an echo, probably unintentional, of Donaldson's characterization of Thomas Covenant in the first three novels of his series. Still another part of me, likely that which has grown up as a result of my training in the academic humanities, reminds me that I do not have enough grounding in trauma theory to be able to untangle the understandings of horrific events embedded in and transmitted by Flynn's Dark Places. Having neither the situated ethos of having suffered trauma myself nor the invented ethos of long study of trauma as trauma and the effects it has on those who have endured it, I perhaps ought not to say so much about the presentation of it in text as I otherwise might.

Although I recognize that the last part of me is more likely correct than the first, I recognize also that the former will have much more currency in the prevailing culture of the United States. I can easily envision many of the people among whom I grew up, and indeed among whom I now live and among whom I lived in The City, seeing such a person as Flynn's protagonist and thinking "Pull it together; something bad happened to you, yes, but you have to get over it and move on." I can easily envision them looking at her failure to do so and seeing only weakness that deserves condemnation. Perhaps there is something in the novel that seeks to force upon the reader the question of how to handle such people as Flynn's protagonist, people who are shaped by their circumstances in ways that they cannot or will not set aside and yet unfit them for "normal" life. Or perhaps there is something in the novel that uses the protagonist to frustrate what "normal" means. But most readers will not seek for such a thing; they will see instead that the work thwarts the easy and comfortable expectations they have as a result of reading repetitions in the genre, and they will turn aside from it utterly.

I did not, though, not only because of the paycheck, and I am glad of it.

*I am well aware that the study of literature is fraught, that many will suggest it is not worth studying at all, and that others will chafe at the inclusion of Asimov and Tolkien alongside Chaucer and Shakespeare. Tolkien generates quite a bit of scholarship, including what I curate here; Asimov prompts somewhat less, although he ought to get more, since he was himself an academic. And I maintain that the rejection out of hand of "popular" work by scholarly bodies is a large part of what prompts the rejection of scholarly bodies by the readership of "popular" works.

**I am aware also that my Otherness is less in scope and scale than the Otherness imposed on, well, others. I make no claim to being particularly or especially excluded / abjected. I have a small taste of it, though, and I can make inferences about its extrapolation, perhaps.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


To what end all this?

To what end the daily writing,
Online to few views and little money,
Offline to little readership and less money?

To what end the work of research,
Or what the humanities calls research,
Reading what has been written,
Trying to find out what was going on at the writing
And what it may mean now?

To what end the work of teaching
When students value credentials over knowledge
And know that they will be more successful without,
The next Zuckerberg or Jobs,
When they do not want their minds opened,
For they look at those who have perhaps begun to do so,
Those who look at things deeply,
Who plumb their meaning,
And see no smiles on their faces,
When they see no sense in any of the knowledge
And see no sense in learning how to get it
For there is no way ahead as they define it?

Friday, November 7, 2014


The irony
Of students at state supported schools
Schools set up by national law
The land-grant schools
Complaining of government overreach
Of federal programs going against Constitutional dicta
Remains a hammer to my forehead

No wonder I cannot get a raise

Clearly, I have failed and continue to do so

Thursday, November 6, 2014


This span of November, the first couple of weeks of it, is rife with birthdays. Mine was Election Day. A cousin and a friend share Guy Fawkes Day. My father's is just before Veterans Day. This tells me something about when people enjoy one another's company. It also reminds me to celebrate as autumn gathers and winter begins to threaten some parts.

And I have been celebrating, although I have not celebrated all events on all days. My wife and I did celebrate Día de los Muertos, harkening back to our Texan upbringing (we both grew up in the state, although neither of us was born in it) and her deep Hispanic heritage; we set out ofrendas and prayed. Whether we were heard, though, I do not know; I do not know how well I can claim to know my own dead, and I never met or little met most of hers.

I celebrate, too, such small triumphs as are given to me. That I continue to have work to do, and that it continues to pay a bit, eases me, if only a little. That I continue to be called upon to help with things does, as well; I appreciate being told thusly that I am valued (although I would not mind being told by a raise or a continuing line job).

I celebrate greatly the continued development of Ms. 8, who grows daily and commands more of herself. She crawls proficiently, now, and her babbling is beginning to show patterns. So do her gestures, which my wife and I are figuring out. Being able to understand what she asks for and thus provide it more efficiently is helpful; it reduces the frustrated crying for needs of food and diapering. But that does not mean she gets all of what she wants. That would be irresponsible of me, and with as much as I have complained at such irresponsibility in others...