Friday, January 31, 2014


I think I have mentioned before that one of the pleasures with which I have indulged myself is playing tabletop role-playing games--rolling dice and telling lies, as I have described it to people in the past.  Throughout my collegiate career, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I was fortunate enough to have access to excellent groups of gamers: the House of Lowe Thor's Day Wrecking Crew (in the Alamo City) and the Gamers of the Haven and the Booth-Sitters (both in Hub City in Cajun Country).  Playing with them was an excellent experience for me, and while there are some things I very much ought to have done differently, I feel that it was good for me to do.

In The City, however, I struggled to find groups with which I could meet regularly and that would play my favored game--L5R.  Several short-lived campaigns sprang up, progressing irregularly for a while before dying away.  I was fortunate enough to participate in some online L5RRPG, as well, although some of those did not work out as well as I would have had happen, either.  So I have in some senses languished as a gamer, and I feel the lack.

That I should feel such is overly sentimental, I know.  It is something like high school or college athletes looking back on glory days after their bodies have begun to soften and the demands of daily life have begun to tell upon them and remembering when the small part of the world in which they lived was bent to their wills, attendant upon their whims.  Like such cases, there is something sad (I am sure) in my looking back at sitting around a table in a garage or shed or shop, laughing and joking with friends as we worked together to tell a story in which we were all taking part and which connected us with a worldwide community (to which I have had the good fortune to contribute).

Unlike such cases, however, I can in some senses return to such things.  Sherwood Cottage stands in a college town, and my work puts me in contact with other gamers.  I have not acted to further that contact as much as I ought in the past, but that is changing, and I think it is to my benefit that it is.  Once again, I will be able to be part of a group of people telling a single story, working to craft a narrative in the moment of its performance, serving simultaneously as authors and audience in the extemporaneous ephemeral art (as Daniel Mackay calls it; I have studied such things in a formal sense).  And for it I thank both those loyal people who have gamed with me through campaigns in The City and the countryside and those who are coming newly to my table.

We will craft an epic together, and your names will carry forward for so long as I can find my way back to friends and dice and fun.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I join my voice
To the many voices calling out
For an end to the weather
(Perhaps the thought is that
We are full of hot air
And so we can serve as a heating system)
Like many others
I weary of being cold
All the time
Like many others
I look at my heating bills
And shiver in a way that has nothing to do with the temperature
Like many others
I hope for heat
But will doubtlessly complain when it comes
Yet I am minded of something that has been said
If it is the case
As the old folks say
That back in their days
They walked uphill in the snow both ways--
For that was when it was really cold--
And the recent weather has been really cold--
Relative, of course, to where you are--
Then only recently has it been as it should be
(As one of exceptional quality said to me
Bug-killing cold
Such as had not come in years
To this place
And to some others I have known)
And if that is in fact the case
It seems to me
That we have been having a hot time of it

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I cannot say that my current position has treated me badly.  I knew what it was going into it, and my employer has not failed to meet the agreed-upon terms for my work.  Nor have I been disappointed in the caliber of people with whom I work.  They have, for the most part, been excellent colleagues and subordinates of the sort I have come to expect from years of doing the kind of work I do (which is to say that some have been a lot more fun than others--but that is true of every job I have ever had, and I think it true of every job that can be had).  So I am not complaining in what follows.

I remain on the job market, as I think I may have implied and as should come as no surprise even if I have not implied (or stated) it.  The position I am in now is, by title and contract, temporary, and even if it is temporary across a fair term and offers me the chance at repeated reappointment (which it does, to be sure), it is contingent and therefore subject to elimination by forces entirely beyond my control (as well as those over which I have some say, certainly).  The instability therein is not something that sits well with me, particularly with a child on the way.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I could well stand a higher paycheck.  (Could not we all?)

As part of remaining on the market, I have asked a number of people--some of whom might well be reading this--to recommend me, to speak well on my behalf and to do so in a public forum.  And I am a bit uncomfortable with having done so.  That it is necessary, I realize; my own testimony of my ability is not likely to be convincing, while those who do not stand to benefit directly and materially from my success add substantial ethos to my claims if they agree with them.  But there is something in me that is ill at ease with having attracted attention to myself in such a way, and something else in me is ill at ease with having solicited compliments.

A similar unease once attended upon me as I wrote application letters for jobs and funding.  Despite what many people know about me, despite my carefully constructed façade of self-appreciation and robust performance of jocundity, I do tend to prefer remaining at the edges of things, worried that if I speak out, I will be called out, and the failure to which all corporeal things are subject will manifest in me as I am obliged to prove myself or be labeled a lying fool.  (It has happened more than once, certainly, and the shame of it lingers years later.)  Through practice, though, I have come to be at ease trumpeting myself on the page (and I seem to have done decently well, as I have landed job interviews because of it).  Perhaps the same will happen as I continue to ask for recommendations--although I hope not to have to do so for jobs too many more times.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


It is no secret that I make my living through teaching.  As part of that teaching, I have my students make substantive posts to discussion boards I set up through the campus information system.  The posts often exemplify hurried student writing, hammered out in a flurry of "get-it-done-so-I-don't-fail-the-class" and not substantially (or, I often think, minimally) revised for content, clarity, or diction.  (That even the English majors, who ought to know better, do it is...troubling.)  As such, I find a number of examples of interesting bits of filler phrase in what they submit, including some particularly annoying instances of the trite.

One of them is "In my personal opinion."  It is problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, as I perhaps need to remind my students, what a writer writes is presumed to be a report of the writer's understanding or opinion unless otherwise indicated.  Accordingly, there is markedly little need to announce that an opinion is one.  (The only one that comes to mind is in direct juxtaposition with the stated opinion of another, as in Graff and Birkenstein's title model.)  Second among the problems of the phrase is redundancy.  Students are rarely in a position to voice an opinion on behalf of an agency or group (at least in my class discussions), and they rarely argue points from those perspectives in which they may claim to have opinions as professionals.  The opinions they voice are therefore necessarily personal, and so calling the opinions they voice "personal opinions" is needless.

Another is "The reading was impactful for me."  Again, the statement is problematic.  The "for me" is needless for the same reason that "personal" above is needless: the student is not empowered to speak on behalf of another and will therefore necessarily only speak on her/his own behalf.  In addition, "impactful" reads as a buzzword, one formed through a process common to English-language adjectival formation but that comes off as a needless neologism, one inserted in an abortive attempt to "sound smart" by one who has not done enough reading in the field to know what smart sounds like in it.  (I think it is something not uncommon to other fields, which, if true, offers some justification; at least it conforms to some disciplinary standards.)  The construction grates, and I need to lead my students to stop writing such things--at least when handling what I ask them to handle.

Given such things, it appears that I need to offer instruction to my students not only in the direct details of their courses, but in how to process and handle those details.  Doing so, of course, will provoke outcry.  It is not explicitly listed among the course competencies listed in my course materials (although I can easily make the argument that it is subsumed in what is explicit on the syllabus), and students and administration will doubtlessly complain thereof.  The broader public may well, too, as to train students out of lazy language can be read as the dreaded "indoctrination" all too easily ("He's not even letting them voice their opinions!  He's denying their authentic voices!").  (I spend much time anticipating opposition.)  I am caught, therefore, between conflicting demands: teaching students what I think they need to know and not prompting the kind of complaint that can lead to my not being reappointed.  For my position is precarious, and I well know it...

Monday, January 27, 2014


I have commented before about the expected length of the short essays I tend to write in this webspace.  In doing so, I noted that I want to try to increase the length of my daily pieces; it is much like increasing the intensity of a workout regiment (with which I have admittedly far less experience than I ought).  Indeed, as I have noted, these pieces are exercise for me as I try to work on The Work and on getting others to make their own forays into it.  They are helpful in that, since obliging myself to sit down and hammer out several hundred words (hopefully of lucid prose, but I chose my title for a reason) puts me in mind to attend carefully to language early in the day, and what I do requires me to attend carefully to language throughout the day.

The average word count for my essays--if my prose pieces can be called essays, although if they cannot, I do not know what other word I would use--has been increasing; I had been hovering right around 500, and I am now up to 530 or thereabouts (depending, of course, on the spans over which word counts are reckoned).  It is not as much as I would want it to be, of course.  Many entertain the fantasy that they can suddenly leap across levels of performance, turning their hands to things once and finding within them excellence in doing so.  It is a failing I share with them, and it is worse for me to share it than most, for I am well aware that learning is progressive and incremental.  Learning how to be a teacher taught me that much, at least.

The slow shift allows me to build up my ability to expand upon ideas from my own head and understanding, something I have referenced as being desirable.  Yet even in so relatively brief an essay as this, I have already made several references to other sources.  Although they are my own words, so that I am in some ways continuing a conversation I have long since begun, the references do suggest difficulty in coming up with new ideas independently.  It occurs to me also that the difficulty in sustaining ideas independently increases with the length over which they are to be extended--which makes sense, really, such that I ought not to count it any particularly telling revelation to have had it occur to me.

The danger in such ideas is that they will be taken as excuses to not flesh out what needs to be fleshed out.  Illustrative examples, which account for most of the citations I had been bemoaning in my work on the more formal essay a few days back, are necessary.  Most people require being shown how reasoning works, and reasoning must incorporate present evidence to be effective.  Pulling in the understandings of others who have worked on similar projects before also makes the reasoning more evident and therefore more effective, and it requires the outside citation.  The same is true for those whose works are pulled in because they offer countervailing perspectives.  Arguments often push off from the statements of others, and pushing off requires something against which to push.

More important by far, though, is explaining how what is brought in leads to or supports the ideas it is claimed to support.  I worry that I do not do enough to explain such things, or that my selection of evidence means my work of explaining them is needless.  In neither case can I claim to be making as much of a contribution as I would like to make or as I had thought I was making.  In neither case am I satisfied with my performance therefore.  So I must continue to practice, in this webspace and elsewhere, hoping thereby to come to be able to write at length in clear prose that does far more to interpret the evidence the world provides than to repeat it.  And I can hope that others will continue to read it and profit thereby.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


I was shocked into being awake today by a piercing scream from the youngest of our three cats.  Nothing was wrong with him, fortunately.  He had simply been confronted by an object of hate to him: a big orange tabby tom that has recently started sitting on the front porch of Sherwood Cottage, or in the driveway.

I am convinced that it is Frank's father.

I suppose I ought to offer some context.  Frank is a rescued kitty; his mother (a raging bitch of a calico) was wandering around a part of Brooklyn where a friend of my wife's and mine lived.  Said friend found her and took pity on her, and after a few days, the mother, Maggie, followed our friend home.  Our friend fed her, at which point the Maggie's teats swelled, and our friend knew there were kittens to be found.  She did find them; Frank and his brother, the Colonel, were alone in an abandoned warehouse that belongs in a 1980s urban decay film more than in the Bed-Stuy of the early 2010s.  If there had been more kittens, we do not know and likely never will.

Our friend took in Frank, the Colonel, and Maggie, but she could not accommodate all three for long.  We ended up taking Frank, adding him to the two cats we already had and entering into actually having a clowder.  That clowder came with us from Bedfordside Garden to Sherwood Cottage, and all was well with the cats for a time.

Then the tabby began to show up.

We first noticed him--and it is clearly a him--one night as we came home from something or other.  He was sitting on our lamp-lit porch, looking longingly at the window until we got out of the car, at which point he leapt up and ran away into the darkening Oklahoma evening.  In the weeks since, he has frequently popped up on our porch or in the driveway, and I think he has sheltered sometimes in our garage (there are holes in it I will not patch; I pay rent in part so that someone else will have to do such work).  When I am inside and he does so, I hear Frank complain of it bitterly, raging against the orange feline fiend.  The sounds are much as would be expected: loud hissing, a weirdly warbling growl, the feline screaming in hate.

The other cats do little other than look on; neither reacts with the same fierce anger that Frank displays.  It is for that reason that I think there must be something...personal.  Somehow, some way, the tabby has been bad to Frank directly and specifically.  And I recall that Frank is a foundling, one who was out on the street with his mother and brother in his earliest days, neglected by the world.  The relationships of cats are as they are, of course, and it is dangerous to personify too much.  But there is something similar in their stances and attitudes, and, again, there is a seeming personal thrust to the hate--as all good hate displays--that leads me to believe there is something more at work.  I can easily see that it is Frank reacting to the tom that made him and left him and others to die, coming now to impose upon his son for entry into what my wife and I have made sure is a good life for our cats, and I could not fault him for the anger if it were the case.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


(Today's post derives from a couple of discussions with my colleagues I have had in the past couple of weeks.  I have discussed before my appreciation for the kind of interchange my current office situation allows, and I wish to reiterate that statement of appreciation.  In the thoughts leading up to today's post, the intra-office talk has allowed me to generate a new idea, one that I find of value and that I hope may be of some use to others when they confront similar situations.)

One of the complaints that is heard from students is that they do not understand their professors.  In many cases, the lack of understanding comes from the fact that the professors are lecturing based upon the belief that students, having voluntarily entered into the collegiate environment and remained in the classes in which they enrolled, have performed the tasks assigned them and done the assigned readings.  Many students do not do the assigned readings, as simple quizzes often show, and even among those who actually look at the pages in their textbooks, there is some...misunderstanding about what reading actually is.  (Reading is not simply seeing the funny marks on the page; it is making those funny marks make meaning, and it is not a passive process.)  It follows that those students will have trouble keeping up with things.

In some cases, however, the students complain of not being able to understand a professor because that professor "has an accent."  This is particularly the case in classes in language disciplines such as English; the student gripe of "The professor can't even speak English; why should I listen?" echoes through hallways and in offices of instructors and administrators, thrown up as a justification to overturn grades or switch classes.  And it is a bad one.

In the first case, everybody--everybody--has an accent.  Everybody.  I speak what is largely a lower Midwestern accent (although I have my Texanisms, y'all), and, for the most part, people do not complain about my accent; it is more or less that which is privileged in the United States.  That does not, however, mean it is not an accent; there are a number of features in my speech that are classically from my major accent pattern and yet violate the prescriptive standards of pronunciation articulated in a number of dictionaries and of usage articulated by Strunk and White.  Yet I am understood clearly (in most cases, and by most people).

In the second case, communication is a reciprocal process.  It is admittedly true that speakers have a duty to present as clearly as possible the ideas which they want to convey.  It is also true that listeners have a duty to do their utmost to attend to those ideas and work to understand them.  As with reading, it is not a passive process; the effort expended in doing so often goes unnoticed, so that people are readily annoyed by having to exert noticeable effort, but the expenditure does not mark it as a bad thing.  The exertion of muscles to noticeable extents is not condemned by those who have to do it, or if it is, it is not blamed upon the thing toward which the exertion is directed; it is instead assumed to be the fault of the one exerting.  And the exertion is perceived as having improved the one exerting.  The same is true of communicative acts; having to work to get the meanings embedded improves the worker and helps the idea to remain with the worker longer.

In another case, the professors whose accents are derided are almost all teaching in languages which are not their own.  They have had to learn new languages and even new alphabets, often as adults and amid many challenges.  In many respects, they have a better understanding and appreciation of the language of instruction than those for whom it is a native language, a tongue that "simply is" and that does not have to be critically examined therefore.  (Consider how many native speakers of English in the United States--unfortunately, typically monoglots--complain that they are not good at English.  Is it perhaps because of the discomfort attendant upon interrogating the assumed?)  That superior understanding, as well as the direct experience of grappling with the difficulties the language offers (and all languages have their own interesting quirks and challenges), stands to make of those instructors better teachers.  I have rarely had to struggle with English classes; I have no understanding of what it is like to look at the words and have them not make sense, so I do not know how to guide others through that experience nearly so well as one who has had to face it.  And I am not the only one.

Such student complaints come down to two things: 1) The students want to do less work and 2) The students are presenting tacit racism (for it is almost always the case that the students who make such complaints do so from positions of ethnocentric privilege).  Neither of these should be encouraged.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I am working on an essay (which is commonplace) for the inaugural issue of a journal (which is exciting).  Said issue aims to be a special topics issue, one focusing on magic.  Since I have done a fair bit of work with fantasy literature, which is predicated on magic, I figured I would have something to say that the journal may well want to print.  Getting it onto the page has proved more difficult than I would prefer it to be, and I am duly annoyed by it, but I am making progress, and that is satisfying despite the vexations.

I write in the plural to refer to the difficulty for the appropriate reason: more than one annoyance.  The difficulty in getting words about something I have studied at length to go from where they are to where I want them to be is a pain, certainly.  Another is in something of which I have been accused before: overreliance on the words of others.  I seem scarcely able to move ahead one paragraph without throwing in a citation, not to a primary work (which I would expect to have to do in any event), but to a critical or secondary.

I am supposed to be capable of carrying out my own analysis of written works.  I should not have to lean so heavily upon the work of others that it carries me; I am supposed to be able to walk, perhaps haltingly or with a cane, but upon my own feet.  Yet it seems that I am unable to do so with this paper--or with the others I have written and am writing (because of course I am working on more than one project).  Despite having been chastised for it in the past, I still let myself be carried.

Do I cite excessively because I wish to demonstrate my erudition by showing command of the primary and secondary materials?  Do I do so because I fear to venture forth under my own power?  Do I do so because I ultimately recognize the folly of what I do as a scholar in the humanities (which is to repeat platitudes that were doubtlessly cliché when they were first written down millennia ago and to string together words in ways that make no sense--as few scholars will ever admit)?  The second is most likely, I think, but all three are possible.

Or is it a happier truth, that I recognize myself as the product not only of my own experiences and circumstances, but indebted to all who have preceded me in flesh and in working on The Work?  Perhaps it is this truth, that I am but another to tread the long road towards The Truth, and the cane with which I limp further along it is in fact a baton that has been handed me for my section of a relay whose end is imagined although not glimpsed.  Perhaps, then, my essay will be the baton another scholar picks up.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I have addressed the use of kennings before, at least as the device exists in the world (and as it occurs to me to look over once again in preparation for discussing with my students works which include them as a matter of course).  They are in many cases metonym or synecdoche, references to things by association or by component part, and I note that I use some variant upon them to describe the places I have been and those in which I live and have lived.  The City of Thunder, Bedfordside Garden, Sherwood Cottage, and their like occur to me as being such references, even if their meanings are perhaps obscured by the specificity of their fields of reference.  (But only perhaps.  I have few secrets.)

They are forms of encryption, such devices, methods of reducing certainty and clarity and therefore methods used to hide--although in such a way as asks to be found, as with the embedding of Cynewulf's name in runes in his verse (you can guess what I have been teaching, yes?).  If I call the place where I grew up Nimitz's schooltown, it will not take much to figure out what and where I mean.  Similarly if I say I studied at Gaines's school, or the Chaucerian Allen's.  And with that ease comes the suggestion that the task is to be done, the puzzle solved; it is not much of a cover that so readily falls to the floor.

And in such a case, why would it be used to hide?  (As might be guessed, this line of thought proceeds from what happened in my classroom.  Say what it is that I have been teaching.)  If the mask accents but does not obfuscate, to what end is it as a device for hiding?  For when I put the question to my students, they suggested almost to the last and least of them that the slanted embedding of identity amid anonymity surrounded by riddles and elegies and the talk of the best of trees was meant to hide the writer in the work.  I know that my place on the ground floor of the ivory tower limits my view sharply; there are walls about the grounds over which I cannot see, and my students still stand at the gates, having not yet fully entered, so that they can yet see the streets surrounding.  There may well be a thing in the text of which I am unaware but that their circumstances make obvious to them; if there is, it is knowledge I wish to possess.

I wish to possess all knowledge, actually.

Perhaps, however, there is a cultural current among my students that suggests to them that the only reason to hide a thing, however badly it may be hidden, is to actually conceal it from the casual viewer.  And if there is such a thing as that, I sorrow, for it is a means by which to isolate people from the wondrous intricacies in the depths of things.  The solid stone beneath us is by no means simple; its structure is complex and glorious if we but look closely enough at it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


My page view count
Has fallen off
Dropping precipitously
And I do not know why

It cannot be because
I reference comics
One day when I did
I had a hundred views
Although another day doing it
Got me maybe twenty

It cannot be because
I whine
For what other purpose
Is the internet made?
(Cats, of course, and misogyny.
Don't believe me?
Tits or GTFO)

It cannot be because
I discuss my experience
Can it?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


It should be no surprise that I read PHD Comics, given that I was a graduate student and I am still at work in the collegiate environment and the subject matter of the comic strip is at the confluence of those two things.  Since I do read the strip, it should also be unsurprising that I read this strip, in which the dreaded Professor Smith tells the unnamed main character of the strip (with whom readers are invited to identify because he is profoundly unmarked--a white or Asian man in a STEM field, so playing to stereotypes, and nameless, thereby serving as a blank placeholder into which readers can imagine themselves)* "In academia, you never really catch up.  There are always more things that need to be done.  It's a consequence of working in an open field.  We are at the edge of human knowledge!"  And while the strip, being comedic, follows up with a gag, the core sentiment is true; there is always more to do.

That truth is something I try to impress upon my students; in each of their writing assignments, for me and for other classes than mine, they ought to look not so much to "get done" as to develop new knowledge heretofore unknown.  Following the several textbooks I have used, I talk about writing as inquiry, and phrase my talk in those terms--each act of writing, when done with diligence and sincerity, represents an opportunity to develop new understanding that the writer is the first of all people to know and to send that understanding out into the world so that others may look upon it and be illumined, if only a small bit more.**  I say it to them as a means of indicating that the work I ask them to do is not merely a means to an end but an end in itself, a contribution to such glory as humanity commands, and thus far more valuable than simply getting an assignment done.

That truth is not always comfortable, however; truths seldom are.  It has prompted me to agonize over getting things done, to acknowledge that however much I write and in however many places, it is not enough.  Although I feel something of the Good Doctor's reason for writing, I feel sometimes as if that exhalation is labored, as though my bronchia are choked with phlegm and my trachea with mucus, and there is a pillow pressing down upon my face to silence me now and perhaps forever.  (My wife's pregnancy only adds to this; I have been told by many that being a parent is another exercise in always-more-to-do, and one of far worse consequences for failure than my not getting any given paper written.)  I know I am not alone in the discomfort; the comic strip is as widely read as it is because it does speak to an experience common among at least one group of people with whom I belong.  That we are all behind where we want to be does not mean the demanded pace should be slowed, certainly, but it does mean that there is some interesting company along the way, and that is good to know.

*I can hear it now, something like "Geez, can't you just enjoy the comic?"  I am a scholar of the humanities; from what do you think I derive enjoyment?

**I wonder if I ought to take it as some kind of sign that one of the cats shat noisily while I wrote this sentence.

Monday, January 20, 2014


The obvious focus of today for those in the United States is on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.  Today, the nation ostensibly pauses to honor the legacy of one of the many important civil rights leaders of the mid-twentieth century, reflecting upon the struggles of which, for a time, he was the perceived center.  ("Ostensibly" because, as is to be expected, they day is being spent otherwise; I have work to do even though my classes are not meeting today, and I am aware that many retailers are running sales to exploit the down-time that many others have as well as many workers who otherwise might have been able to benefit from the reforms King and his colleagues espoused.  It is not surprising.)

Today, it should be obvious that the work begun long before King is yet to be done.  There is not parity among races in governmental and judicial processes in the US, and even the term "race" is so problematic as to prompt many to shy away from the discussion thereof (I am, again, aware of my privilege and the limits on it).  That there are systemic inequities is recognized by few in power, and those few are typically unable or unwilling to effect the change that the recognition thereof suggests.  And I, at least, see little hope that it will be otherwise for some time,* for matters will not improve without the kind of coordinated effort that centralizing figures--such as King is romanticized to be--can facilitate.  The fracturing of the middle and working classes in the days since King, understandable as both expected consequences of world events and as products of systematic manipulation by a few assholes in power, works against that coordination.

Little hope is not the same as no hope, however.  While I cannot expect that all people will reflect upon their beliefs and attitudes and adjust them in accordance with observable data and sound ethics (a term which I well know to be fraught), I do expect that there are some who will and some who do.  Many of us are in positions of influence over the minds of the young--it is not for naught that teachers at all levels are accused of indoctrination rather than education (as though the two can fundamentally be disentangled, since education always assumes a given body of information to be transmitted and developed, and the determination thereof is a political concern necessarily incorporating elements of indoctrination).  Those of us who do teach have the capacity to encourage critical reflection, even as experience teaches us that at no point will we be able to get all of our students to do so.  Still, we can work, and (maugre Fish) ought to work to motivate such reflection, such critical investigation and analysis of the self and the preexisting beliefs imposed upon each of us by the prevailing cultural narratives in which we are enmeshed.

If there is to be any improvement, it will be because of such things and through no other agency.

*It might be wondered at that a person who enjoys white male privilege would be concerned for such things, given that he evidently benefits from the inequities in the system.  He does recognize, perhaps as arrogantly as his use of the reflexive third person implies, that he is diminished by the diminishment of his fellow human beings, and, more directly, he is married to a wonderful woman who is of a different background--and his forthcoming child shares in that heritage.  Fault him if you must for reacting because of his personal involvement with the matter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


This afternoon, my wife's coworkers are hosting a baby shower for her.  Several members of the family have made the trek from their natural state or hard by the meanest of greens or in the lands that gave rise to Cimmeria to this place where the wind comes sweeping down the plain to celebrate the upcoming birth of our child (due at the end of March, thank you) and the burden my wife carries in nurturing the child within her body.  It is good to see that so many others are excited about the child; my beloved wife is working hard to support the baby within her and is enduring much on the child's behalf, and she deserves praise for doing so.

(I do not mean to say by this that those who choose not to have children are deserving of censure by dint of that choice.  They may well deserve censure for other reasons; many people do.  But the informed and deliberate decision not to have a child despite the biological and societal pressures to do that very thing is also praiseworthy.  I do not think I need to seek forgiveness, though, for lauding my wife.  I think I would very much need to seek forgiveness for not lauding her--and not just for her motherhood.)

I am aware of the shower as a distinctly feminine space, however.  The event it celebrates, although yet to occur, is one with which women are most intimately concerned, and understandably.  It is the woman's body that suffers in the process and the woman's body that is put to the nurturing of the life hopefully released into the world thereby; that women are the ones to celebrate the thing in which they are the principal actors is sensible and appropriate.  And in this place, the separation of gender roles along "traditional"* lines is far more in force than in The City or in other places I have known or known of; showers is fer wimmin, or some such thing, and several of the comments that I have overheard bandied about have indicated that the men who have come and are coming along with the celebrants are not expected to attend themselves.  "Burping and farting" seem to be the expected activities, and they are to take place somewhere else entirely.

That this is so forces me to pose some questions, and their nature demands that I attempt to do so delicately, for I really do wish to know, and I truly am curious, but I realize that I can easily come off as the ass in this, and I do not intend to do so.  (I know the sentence is ridiculously complex.  So is what it tries to express.  See Barnard, "The Ruse of Clarity.")  Have I, accustomed to enjoying privilege without necessarily explicitly exerting it, found myself in a position to have had my privilege checked?  Or, rather, am I experiencing in my reaction to the event (which reaction I admit to be childish and petty, particularly since I benefit from the event in several ways) some vanishingly small semblance of the systematic and too-much institutionalized discrimination those in unadvisedly marginalized groups experience on a regular if not continual basis?  (Please do read the question in full before castigating me for it; the qualifiers are in place for a reason.)  And that leaves aside what it says of me that I can and do frame my experience in such terms, something with which I still struggle...

*I use the term advisedly because I know full well that it is problematic--and I know that some who read this know enough to call my on my error if I do not tread carefully with it.  I am aware enough of the problem to be chastised if I do not act with at least the awareness of it, even if I lack a good solution to it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Some years ago, I picked up and read a copy of Donna Dunbar-Odom's Defying the Odds, a book with expresses and investigates the difficulties attendant upon coming from a working-class background and going into academia.  I confess that as I read the book, I read affectively, finding myself identifying with Dunbar-Odom's narrative voice because I found many parts of myself in the text.  (I am supposed to know better than to lose myself in a text in such a way, supposed to be more disciplined than to allow it to happen, but I remain human after all.  Whether that means I am a bad scholar or a good one, I am still not sure.)

I might have discussed the issue in this webspace before, that I come from a solidly working-class background and have as a result faced some...difficulty in negotiating the culture of the academy, particularly that of the academic humanities.  I have in the course of my studies been obliged to question and reconsider most of what my upbringing leads me to call virtues.  Common practices--the "way things are done" and "the way things are"--have faced similar investigation and analysis.  And in doing so, I feel that I have been made distant from the family of my birth even as I have found and grown close to my family of choice.  (I do not mean by this to say that I do not love the people from whom I sprang, but I feel no shame in saying that my wife and child receive more of my love and affection than do my parents and brother.  It is as it should be.)

As I have worked in the academy, I have felt very much as though I am obliged to do through raw power what others, whose backgrounds are more suited to work in the collegiate environment, are able to do through finesse and panache.  I feel that I have to stake my claim by force, that I still have to prove through my efforts that I deserve the place and position I occupy, and that I have to prove it to myself as much as I do to other people.  I am the intellectual version of the nouveau riche, spending conspicuously and gratuitously to assert that I have the stuff to spend, marking myself as a newcomer (and probably making myself unwelcome) as I do so, knowing it and being unable to stop.  For I have the fear that, although I may be making an ass of myself through what I am doing, as an ass I at least have a place, and that if I stop, that place will be taken from me and no other will be forthcoming.

There is some comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who has such feelings of unfittedness and being outside even among the outside (for the intellectual is very much on the outside, as McWhorter notes in Doing Our Own Thing).  For that knowledge, I thank Dunbar-Odom.  But the knowledge of how to get away from such feelings would be far more welcome.

Friday, January 17, 2014


As I was writing in my journal last night (yes, I keep a journal), I caught myself as I was about to make a comment about giving my "best effort."  It occurred to me that I rarely if ever feel as though I have given my "best" effort.  I know that I could work much harder and with more focus on any one of the many things I ought to be doing in my personal and professional lives, thereby achieving greater effect.  I can do better almost always, so at no point that I recall can I claim with any accuracy to have done my best.

Thinking on the matter further, I came to the notion that few people do.  People can rarely look back at their words and deeds and say that they did not have it in them to speak better or do better.  Most or all have gone away from a thing and later thought "Oh, I should have said" or "I should have done" something different, something other than what was said or done, something that would have been better.  It happens often, and since it is a matter of definition that nothing can be better than the best, in each of those instances, we have not done our best.

More thought on the matter, however, leads me to a good reason for our collective failure to do our best, one that may well actually excuse the error.  Better work tends to require more focus; the best work requires most focus.  Focus shuts other things out.  Shutting things out creates problems that ought not to arise.  It cuts us off from parts of ourselves we need.  For example, I could work more diligently as a scholar, shutting myself away in my office or the library with books and scholarly journals, leaving Sherwood Cottage well before dawn and returning well after dark and staying there only to sleep the few hours that my body demands and that I begrudge.  I know this because a fair number of my days as a graduate student were spent thusly, and my undergraduate career was not too much different in that regard.  But for me to act in such a way would diminish me now.  It would cut me off from my beloved wife and our child whom she carries (who is kicking with some force, as I felt last night).  It would cut me off from the markedly enjoyable talks I have with colleagues, talks which may not be strictly of work but are illuminating even so.  It would cut me off from that which makes me human.

More than simple biology, the connectedness to others humanizes, and for a scholar of the humanities, loss of it would be...unfortunate.  The same is true for others; doing our "best" work, what it is that doing out "best" work requires, robs us of something vital, or threatens to do so (and even the threat, by imposing fear, works to the end of actually stealing from us).  We cannot be blamed for seeking not to be burgled.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


There are days I sit in front of my computer to write in this webspace (or in other webspaces or in documents that are far from being webspaces) and words flow freely.  I will not say that the stream is always clear and pure (the metaphor of text as fluid again), and I know well that it is not always wholesome, but it flows.  But there are days when I sit down to write, and it is as though the pipes are clogged.  They permit no outflow, or perhaps only a trickle, a rivulet strained and made dirty by seeping through congealed grease and matted hair and decaying proteins best left unexamined (and I seem not to be able to avoid the scatological).

In such circumstances, I am tempted not to write.  I am tempted to fall back on the old conceit that the Muse comes when she will, and until she comes, there is no sense in my trying to write.  "I have to be inspired to write," whines the annoying little jerk voice within me that wants me to not, a voice a much more popular netizen than I calls The Blerch.  (I do not always agree with The Oatmeal, but it is good reading even so.  And The Blerch is a good concept, little bastard that he is.)  "Things have to be right or it won't work."  It is a refrain I have heard from students any number of times; "I just couldn't get it going.  It didn't feel right."

You should know where this is going.

It is true that the Muse comes when she will.  It is also true that getting any given woman to come often takes dedicated effort on the part of those who want her to come.  Sometimes it does not work, admittedly; the mood does have to be right and the circumstances sufficiently relaxed or otherwise suited to her, and even then, other things can intervene.  But that does not mean that the effort ought not to be expended, that hands and tongue ought not to be bent toward the goal of making the Muse come.  And when the effort does induce the Muse to come, there is a joyous outpouring that is itself quite stimulating, one that in my case often promotes something cylindrical to send out streams of fluid of its own.

I am a more skillful lover of my Muse than to simply quit when the response I seek is not immediately given.  Instead, I work at it until I can work no longer, until hands cramp and tongue will flap no longer--or until my Muse comes and I can enjoy her having come from my efforts, as I have noted before.  So it is that even in such circumstances as those with which I began to write today, I do not turn away but labor on.  Really, even if the Muse does not come in response to my efforts, she appreciates them, and I still have some reward.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


One of the things I am doing with my students this semester is online discussions.  I have tended to do this when I have taught literature classes, largely because it provides a valuable extension of the classroom (when students avail themselves of it, which has not always been as extensively as I would like it to be).  Admittedly, some students do the minimum work to earn their assigned points--but this is true of every assignment.  Sometimes, students do come up with some really interesting ideas, and one such happened yesterday.

The idea that struck me among the student comments I read yesterday is contained in one remark that a student wanted to find a class "dripping with literature."  I replied to the student that it suggests a metaphor of literature as fluid.  (Which fluid it is most like is a question well worth pursuing.  The obvious answer is "ink," but obvious does not mean right.)  And, if literature is a fluid and a class is a thing that can drip with it, does that mean a class can be damp with it?  Moist?  Flooded?  What does it mean to drip or flood or be moistened with literature?  How does one dry out from it?  Can one?  Should one?

I pose such questions to my students.  (I have yet to read any answers.)  It is, actually, fairly common for me to do so.  I am a student of language and literature guiding students of language and literature more junior than I am (and, whatever their majors, those in my class are students of language and literature while they are in my class), and I can only do so by prompting them to ask and answer questions, with the answers leading to yet more questions to be answered.  Some will be frustrated, no doubt; through years of conditioning and the legitimate demands of other disciplines, they want to see single, definitive answers to things, and the humanities offer no such things.  Not if they are done sincerely and with passion (and I have no desire to reward the insincere and apathetic).  Others will simply quietly hunker down and try to get through the "fluff" class their school and majors require of them so that they can move on to the "real" work they need to do, the kind that is supposed to lead them to a job doing something that makes money (although money more for others than for themselves).

Still others, though, will begin to be able to ask the questions for themselves, to look at things and wonder articulately and with subtlety and nuance.  They will see the pieces of creation and question them, working to answer those questions and expanding the field of human knowledge by their efforts even as they and I realize that there will never be an answer to all of the questions until the end; indeed, finding The Answer is the culmination of things, as the Good Doctor has noted at least twice to my recollection ("The Last Question" and "The Last Answer," oddly enough).  Those students will begin to move into The Work in at least some small way, and we will all be better for it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I am in trouble.

It is only the second day of the new term, and I am already fighting running battles with my snooze button.  I am already going back and forth with the little beeping machine over whether I will get out of bed when I want to get out of bed or I will get out of bed when I want to get out of bed.  And I feel like I am losing.

Perhaps I am doing the teaching thing wrongly.  Perhaps my techniques are inefficient.  Whether they are or not, though, I found that I was emotionally and mentally drained at the end of my day yesterday, and that those drains sapped what physical resources were available to me (which are not as extensive as they have been because I have not nurtured them as I ought to have done).  Even now, I am somewhat dazed by the experience--and the first day of classes is one of the easiest teaching days.  If it left me as I am, then I very much am in trouble.

Amid the comments disparaging those in the professoriate is one used to disparage all teachers, that we get to have a lot of time off.  I have spoken to this before, and other pieces (such as this one referred to me by a former coworker) also hit upon the issue.  What they fail to acknowledge is that working with learners is exhausting (as is conducting research in any field, but that is a different matter altogether).  Guiding students through their individual learning processes takes a lot of work--and it is necessarily the case that students, rather than classes, are guided.  Each learns in his or her own way and at his or her own pace, and what students learn is not always (or even often, probably) the material being explicitly taught.

My composition classes this term have nineteen students each.  My literature class had thirty when I last looked.  Guiding sixty-eight individuals from where they currently are in their understanding to where they need to be to meet the institution-mandated course objectives and where they really need to be to have a chance at fully realizing their humanity and their connectedness to the world around them is no small task.  Many do not realize that there is such guidance to be had, or that such goals exist, let alone are achievable.  Some seek to resist learning as a thing unneeded and undesirable, and a few others unfortunately are not content with their own ruin, but seek to inflict it upon others.  My colleagues and I have to help those who want it--and they all need different help--while minimizing the impact of those who do not or who do not want them to have that help--and they all use different tactics to work their will.  It is, frankly, a lot of work to do.  And if it is the case that I do not do that work with the sweat of my brow or the strength of my back, I can nonetheless attest that it is no less tiring to move people with mind and mouth than to dig ditches in the dirt and stone.  I have done both, and more than once.

I take comfort, though, in the sure knowledge that the first day on the job is exhausting for most people, regardless of the work.  Some matters, at least, should improve soon.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Today begins the Spring 2014 term at my current institution, and I will be teaching nine hours consisting of three sections across two classes: two sections of first-year composition and one of early British literature.  It is the easiest teaching load I have had since my assistantship--I was teaching seventeen hours in four sections as an adjunct--and the first time since then that I have gotten to teach in my area of specialty.  (I am qualified to teach composition through years of doing it, and I am qualified to teach American literature through years of study, but my focus was on early British literature, and such classes are not common at my previous institution.)  For both the relatively light load and the distribution of it, I am grateful.

Even so, as always, I am a bit apprehensive about going back into the classroom.  Every time I am faced with new sets of students, I am a bit nervous as I try to look ahead.  How will the students react to me?  Will I face what I faced last semester?  Will I respond to it the same way if I do?  Will I be able to reach more than a hare handful of them?  (The old calls of "If you reach only one, you have done enough" ring in my ears, and they are wrong; it is not enough until all are called.  But I have said that my teaching is my ministry, I think, even if I cannot find where.)  Will this be the set of classes that goes too far and finds me out of work or worse?  Will this be the semester I get shot in the face for handing back a paper that bears a failing grade?

At the same time, I wonder if this will be the term that goes well, the one in which students impress me with their work across the board and scholars, as yet untrained but with clear potential and desire to learn, and we can move together beyond the basic content into beginning to grapple with deeper issues.  I wonder if this will be the term that sees many students see the relevance of what they are doing in my classes, not only for their curricular requirements, but for their own enrichment and the betterment of the world in which they live.  I wonder if this will be the term in which my teaching work and my work on The Work will finally coincide.  (It might be; I have some projects to do that seem similar to those I am asking of my students.  The model will likely be helpful, even if I am not going to put it in the usual place for reasons that will make sense later on.)

I wonder about many things.  I have many questions.  I hope to be able to instill the same things in my students and to not lose them in myself.  And I know that this semester potentially offers opportunity to do so.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


As I have noted in one of my social media feeds (and actually "feeds" this time), I am grateful to be in contact with a number of interesting people who read deeply and broadly and comment upon what they find.  I am also in contact with a number of people who are much more adept than I am at coming up with ideas and making them interesting; I feel that I am often able to come up with ideas, but that those ideas ring much of being forced, of my trying too hard to make them happen and make them good.  I find myself thus in awe and envy of many of the people with whom I have the good fortune to associate and who are sufficiently tolerant as to let me hang around them online and off.

As I write what I write--which is still probably not enough--I do so with the awareness that much of what I write is autobiographical and personal, offering testimonies of my experiences and comments about them.  In doing so, I hope that I can offer one of a number of things: additional accounts of and perspectives on phenomena observed by others, commentaries to let those who may be in some similar circumstances know that they are not alone in those circumstances, pieces of public intellectualism to possibly elevate the net median level of discourse in the world, or present what may actually be interesting reading.  Whether I am successful in the endeavor at all, I rarely know, but I hope even so that I am.  I supposed it is a matter of faith (and probably no small degree of narcissism) that I continue to act as though my small actions matter at all in the world.

I am fortunate to have been told that what I have done has mattered to some people, actually.  Not long ago, some friends of mine in The City made me aware that I was brought up as the subject of a brief narrative--not really an anecdote, but similar to one--by which Huffington Post commentator Rev. Vicki Flippin introduced one of her sermons at the United Methodist Church of the Village.  (It concerns something about which I have commented before.)  It meant much to me to know that I am remembered at all; that I am remembered fondly is, frankly, amazing.  (For someone who has been getting written death threats since age 10 and who is routinely the subject of many, many complaints, it is an unusual thing to be remembered kindly.)  It is relatively rare that people are shown that they have been and are appreciated, so I am once again grateful to have been among such people as will say to others that they value them.  I am once again grateful to have been one of those whose presence and actions have been valued, and I continue to be hopeful that I will someday become worthy of such valuation.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I have been doing more writing of late, which pleases me greatly; I actually begin to feel productive.  Even if I am not necessarily getting the great, grand publications and advancing my scholarly career as I ought to do, I am pushing more of my text out into the world--and I am even managing somehow to get paid for pieces of it.  Perhaps one with it is my consideration or reconsideration of how I work as a writer, of my preferred writing situation, and as I know well that among the readers of what I post here are writers of much greater skill and aplomb than am I, I offer my report thereof.  Maybe, as with other notes I have made in this webspace, it will open a discussion that I and others can use to improve upon ourselves and upon the world.

Perhaps owing to my family's storied and extensive background in music--my brother holds a degree in music, and he is only the most recent in the family to earn one; too, many of my family across generations have been performing musicians at varying levels of artistic and commercial success--I find that I work best when I am able to have music playing.  I know that there are some who need silence into which to summon their Muses, and I hold no rancor for them, but I know also that my experience calls for Euterpe or Polyhymnia to accompany her sisters, whether Thalia, Calliope, Cleo, Erato, or Melpomene be the one to grace my presence with hers.  (Neither Terpsichore nor Urania often come to visit me.)  This may be somewhat odd given my several past expressions of appreciation for the quiet of the morning and my demonstrated tendency to write in the morning (I think I say it best here).  I will plead only that I do not do all of my writing in the morning.  Not by any means.

Tied almost certainly to my writing in the morning, as well as to my own background and what I must admit as a weakness in my makeup, is my overwhelming preference for cups of coffee while I write.  (I am over the earlier problem, thanks, although I still drink a fair bit of wonderfully astringent Darjeeling.)  People have commented on the near-inevitability of seeing a cup of coffee in my hand or within easy reach when they see me, and they are not far wrong.  I have extolled the virtues of the black brew before; I need not do so again.  It does, however, undergird much of my writing even now.

Something that I have increasingly found I need to have when I write is a means of escape; I have to be able to get up and move about.  For one thing, it reduces the effects of the sciatica with which I have recently been formally diagnosed (as if I need another reason to feel like an old man).  For another, it eases the eye strain to which I feel I have been increasingly prone; I used to be able to stare at a screen for hours on end, but no longer.  For still another, I find that walking around the house a bit helps me to refocus my attention on the writing task that faces me.  Something about the physical motion, the going away and returning, works to my advantage.  Perhaps it is simply that doing so, working the large muscles of my legs, stimulates blood flow from which the brain benefits.  Perhaps it is the eureka phenomenon the Good Doctor identifies at work in a small way.  But whatever it is, it helps.

Friday, January 10, 2014


I encounter funny things.

Heard on NPR
The program I do not recall
"I'll gut you
And fill your insides
With peppermint"
(Not broken up so,
Of course,
But this is a poem
And I have to do such things
Do I not?)

Seen in a stall
In the men's room
On the first floor of a library
"Poop every poop
Like it's your last poop"
(Again, not broken up so
But the caesura that seems to fall
In English prosody
Falls there
And it is as good a place as any
To break a line)

Seen on a social media feed
(And with my apologies to the person
Whose feed I am quoting)
"Little strokes fell great oaks"
And then as now
I point out the phallic reference of a comment
Talking about stroking big hard wood

And then I looked in a mirror...

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Four years ago today, the second-best thing* that has yet happened in my life happened: I got married to my beautiful, cheerful, intelligent, kind-hearted, graceful, wonderful, wise wife.  I have not always marked my anniversary in this space--indeed, I have done so only once, and that briefly--and the day has not always been filled with the most joy and happiness.  Last year's anniversary got swallowed up by other concerns.  The year before, we spent more or less quietly (and I am hardly displeased about it), and, Lord willing, this year will be another spent more or less quietly.  Both of us have to work (such is life), but after work is done, the evening is ours to enjoy; as we are an increasingly old married couple (and because we have to work tomorrow), that enjoyment will likely be quite sedate, which suits us just fine.

Marriage has been remarkably good to me.  Had I not met the woman who is now my wife, or had I met her but not allowed myself to fall in love and begin a relationship with her, I may well have finished my course of study more quickly than I did, although I would not have written my dissertation on the topic I did because I would not have had access to the resources I had.  I would probably be living alone, trying to cobble together some semblance of a living from two or three different jobs and enjoying what little free time I had even less than I give evidence of enjoying things now (I am aware of the tone of much of my writing here).  And I would be failing, probably soon to return to my parents' home in defeat.  Or I would have taken a job teaching in the Texas public school system (because I did have certification to teach until November 2010), and I would at this point be contemplating...other things entirely.  (I have addressed the way teachers are thanked.)

Fortunately, because I met the most excellent person who is my wife, I had reason to move from Hub City to The City, to live in the Best of the Boroughs, to study as I have studied (both in the liberal arts and the martial), to have met people who have enriched my life, to have found faith again, to have traveled abroad, to have fought in the trenches of a particularly dismal front in higher education, and to now be in a position from which I have some chance of making a good life for myself and my family.  Because I met her, I have the family I have, a family that makes being a family man worth being and one into which I am not afraid to bring new lives in the next months and, perhaps, the years to follow.

Thank you, beloved Sonya, for four surpassingly good years.  I look forward to ten times as many more with you, and I love you very, very much.

*I think I am justified in putting learning of my forthcoming child ahead of the wedding.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


During my morning reading, I ran across a piece linked to a social media feed by an old colleague, Robert Bly's "Gratitude to Old Teachers" (which, since it is hosted on the Library of Congress website, I think I may use as part of public discourse).  The poem is presented as a paean or encomium to educators, expressing thanks to those whose work contributed to the collective narrator's ability to pass into the previously unknown.  The imagery of the poem seems to argue against that presentation, however, presenting personal advancement as a result of a negative view of education.

The identified milieu of the poem is "the frozen lake," a body of water rendered to stillness and solidity by long cold.  The narrator seeks to walk across it, working to go out onto a solidity new in the world--this lake is presumably not frozen in all weather--and is tentative in doing so because it is only newly frozen; it "once could take no human weight."  Now, however, it is frozen and seemingly supported by teachers under the surface of the ice.  The implication made is that the teachers extend as far as the ice does, "ahead of us for a mile," forming nuclei around which ice crystals can form and join together to provide a stable, if slippery and temporary, walking surface.

The imagery of the frozen lake that was "Water that once could take no human weight" during the collective narrator's school days, one being crossed amid stillness, seems to reflect a view that 1) learning is a one-time thing and that once it is achieved, 2) knowledge is static.  As the narrator moves out, the knowledge represented by the water does not move, nor does the rest of the environment, the context in which the knowledge exists.  An educational viewpoint that supports such an idea--that knowledge is a one-shot, static phenomenon--is clearly erroneous; knowledge, even basic knowledge, changes depending on the place and time.  What is taught is not necessarily what is "right"; it is at best the best understanding of what is right (and not all teaching is at its best, admittedly), and the best understanding changes with the passing years.

More disturbing is the underfloor of the frozen lake surface: old teachers.  Their being under the surface of the lake requires either that they can breathe water or that they are dead--and no evidence in the poem supports their having gills.  Also, for them to be visible under the ice as the collective narrator claims they are requires that they be quite close to the surface--likely frozen in the ice itself.  For the vision depicted in the poem to work, then, almost necessitates that teachers be frozen to death, a death particularly horrible to contemplate or to depict; certainly they must be dead and entombed in the ice.  The collective narrator needs the teachers to be living in the world no more; the advancement depends on death--and indeed mass death, if the teachers are coterminous with the ice that extends a mile ahead.  How many bodies must underlie the ice?  How many layers of bodies are needed to provide a stable walking surface, even in such cold as has typified early January 2014?

If what Bly expresses in the poem is the gratitude of the title, it cannot be wondered at that so many teachers burn out, that so many of them are at "both on autopilot and survival mode" as Strauss reports in her 31 December 2013 Washington Post piece "'I would love to teach, but....'"  If what Bly expresses is gratitude, censure must be all the more feared, for the gratitude is hardly to be sought.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


A number of my colleagues are posting the following image as their profile pictures on one of the more prominent social media networks:
Source: Satanic Temple / AP (, used for purposes of reporting/commentary consistent with Fair Use doctrine; no challenge to IP rights is intended
It is a sketch of a proposed statue to be erected on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds by a New York Satanic church in response to an Oklahoma policy or law that allows for privately-funded religious displays on public lands, as noted here and here.  The law, which has also prompted some Hindus to petition for a display of their own (noted here), has faced challenges from the ACLU, oddly enough led by a Baptist minister.  The ACLU objection is the expected one about violation of the establishment clause via the selective acceptance of the submitted statues (as seems to be happening with the "temporary ban" on displays other than the already-accepted Ten Commandments piece), while the minister's objection derives from the idea that a secularized display of religious iconography trivializes the faith it represents.*

I cannot say that I do not find the joke funny--and I know that my friends mean it as a joke.  I am also not about to go off on some rant about the way that even displaying the image allows the influence of the Fallen; the image has only so much power as is invested in it by those who observe it, and the powers that are in the world can appear as they choose (is it not an article of Christian faith that the Most High assumed a lowly form to save Creation?), so I am not worried about the image corrupting me.  Nor am I worried that by looking upon it or even reporting on it here I will incur the wrath of the Almighty; if I have merited divine censure, I did so before I began to write this morning, but I choose to believe along with the Good Doctor that God has a sense of humor (yes, I am aware that Asimov moved away from religion, but I am also aware that he expressed the hope that "God loves an honest atheist").**  The god I worship may well be looking upon the whole affair with bemusement; I do not presume to account for the particulars of the Wielder's reactions, but I hope God chuckles at human folly, or something similar.

Some things need to be satirized.  They need to be held up to ridicule so that, if the people who do them will not change their ways, others will look and see that something is to be avoided.  But I do not think that is what will happen in this circumstance.  I think instead that the satire--and I cannot help but regard the New York Satanists involved as setting out to satirize (along with the Pastafarians I have heard are working to get involved), even if I think the Hindus (and, yes, even many of the Christians) are sincere--will fall on deaf ears in most of Oklahoma and will work only to a passing disdain among those in the rest of the United States, while the rest of the world will shake its collective head sadly at the infighting insofar as it notices at all what happens where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.  The minds of none will be changed, for the minds of none (or so close to none as matters not) are open to being changed.  We are all of us arrogantly convinced of our own rightness and righteousness--including me--and of the wrongness of those who do not agree with us; we view the other as willfully and irredeemably stupid or willfully and irredeemably sinful, and neither attitude fosters the understanding that is the only way to make things better.

But if I am going to be on one side of this, I will be with the one that is willing to laugh at things.  It is a better sound than angry shouting.

*I am aware that my use of Christian News may strike some as odd.  Consider, though, that if even a purportedly Christian organization is reporting that a prominent Christian leader is against an ostensibly Christian display,† it cannot be quite so much a "godless liberal media" campaign to strip religion from public life in the Buckle of the Bible Belt.

**Both can be found in Asimov Laughs Again.  I am not going to hunt up page numbers at the moment--seriously, this time.

†Ostensibly because Christ was more about the spirit than the letter of the Law; even though Christ remarks that the law will remain in place, He points out in the same passages several insufficiencies in it (Matthew 5).  Righteousness does not come so much from adherence to the Law but to the love that undergirds it.  And ostentatious displays evidently annoy Christ, anyway (Matthew 6).

Monday, January 6, 2014


Today does not mark the beginning of classes, but it does mark the beginning of work for me.  Buildings and offices are opening again, and meetings have already been scheduled.  So I will be trudging in despite the biting cold, and I will do what I can to set up for the coming term in the time I have to do it.  (I am further ahead than I usually am on this, but not so far ahead as I ought to be.  As ever, I should have gotten more done than I did.  I do not want to be only a day or two ahead of my students as I go through the term; they deserve more and I deserve better performance.)

Although I do in part lament the end of the quiet and peace I have had for much of the past month, I am not displeased to be getting back to work.  I appreciate having some imposed structure to guide and shape my time (and, in truth, I need to have something about which to complain--as I think most do).  And I do look forward every term to working with new sets of minds; I hope each time that I go into a new set of classes that I will once again have the kind of teaching experience I had in my early work, that the uncovering of knowledge and development of understanding will be fresh and rapid, exhilarating in its breadth and depth.

It has been so too rarely for me.  Some of the lack has been because of external forces for which none are to blame but with which we all contended poorly.  Some has come from budgetary and administrative conditions, for which there are people to blame, as I have suggested from time to time and as I know but do not report.  Some has come from student resistance; to some, I know that I embody the oppressive forces that have trodden them down and their forebears across generations, and to others, I am part of "the help" that refuses to be ordered about despite taking the salary offered.  And I know that there are ways, many ways, in which I can improve upon my performance in the classroom; I could be more sympathetic to my pupils, more lenient, more giving.  Or so I have been told, and not only by students variously disgruntled.

Whatever the reason, though, my teaching experience has not been as I would have it as often as I would have it be so.  (Parse the sentence; it makes sense.)  As I prepare for the new term throughout this week, while offices are open and between the meetings already scheduled, I do so in the hope that this time will be one of the better ones.  I do so in the hope that I will not come out of it as battered as I have been by earlier semesters, and that the students and I will be better for it.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


A blanket of snow shrouds Sherwood Cottage and the houses and streets surrounding it, setting into stark relief against its stunning background the few blades of grass that poke up from it and the walls of houses protected by their eaves.  There is a peaceful quiet greater than that typical of mornings in this place; the snow serves to silence much, both in itself and in it prompting the dwellers of the wind-swept plains to remain in their own homes, where their sounds do not reach my ears.  And I relish it.

In the outer silence, I am able to reach out within my home with all of my senses; I can sit and simply feel the house.  I hear the susurration of the space heater in the bedroom where my wife still sleeps, the high electric whisper of current being forced through gas in my desk lamp and the magnetic oscillations my computer and its screen produce.  I know that each cat does his own piece, with one even now padding softly towards the bedroom and another contemplating mischief; the third is on the floor where the heater discharges, waiting for the warmth to return.

I feel more than hear the house breathing.  My wife and I have done much to insulate the old windows, but air still moves even if the wall furnace is not blowing.  The doors, I think, which must remain passable--I have to be able to get out with a shovel somehow--are its bronchia, its spiracles.  There is the sense that this place, though an older house and abused by its former tenants, is yet alive, still struggling on more through resignation to continuance than through defiance or in response to love.  (And I think again of Bedfordside Garden, in which my wife and I were the first tenants, and which flourished because of love.)

And this place has been abused; the marks of it are more plain than bruises, for bruises fade with the body's ability to heal, and a house cannot make itself whole again.  Its wounds have been patched in part, and its blemishes covered over, but they still remain.  I can see that college students who did not know how to hold a house have lived here; I can see it in the results of inattention to fixtures and the one strange stain in the carpet that remains, and in the dorm-room-drab paint that is on the walls that are painted (over many layers of other colors that show where the paint has peeled away).  I can see it, too, in the burns and bullet holes on the accompanying garage, and I wonder what else I will find.

Sherwood Cottage has been good to me and mine, and I thank the house for it.  It has served as a refuge from the frenetic furor of The City, permitting space in which to heal myself from what I did to myself therein, and I appreciate it.  It will serve as the first home for my beloved child yet to come, and I cannot help but be grateful.  But it is a place I know I will not be in long, and so although I do extend myself outward to feel what is here, to find the limits of this space amid the snowy world surrounding it, I will not extend deeply into it.  I respect it and I maintain it, and I work in my small and inexpert way to improve it, but this is not my forever home; my time here is limited, and so I am not settling here.

For now, though, I know its limits, I know mine, and I will work within them in the snow-made quiet.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


With the new year well begun, my mind turns to the scholarly activities I know await me.  I am looking to attend three conferences this year: CCCC in Indianapolis, Indiana; the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan; and the South Central Modern Language Association conference in Austin, Texas.  (Others may pop up later.)  The latter two are repeat trips for me; I try to make it to both Kalamazoo and SCMLA each year.  They both produce excellent work, they both offer remarkably good networking activities, and they both provide wonderful experiences.

In support of my trip to the last, the South Central Modern Language Association conference, I am putting together another of my special sessions, albeit on a more "legitimate" topic than the last one I submitted.  As I have noted, I am looking to fill a panel titled Them's Fightin' Words: Implicit and Explicit Combat Methodologies.  One of my colleagues has already suggested a paper to me, but I can use two or three more, so those of you who might like to take a trip to Austin and have some academic inclinations--or who know others who might, so that you can forward this information to them--please note the panel description (which I repeat from the earlier post with some emendation):
The will to fight is embedded in human nature and so in human languages and literatures.  Many of the most widely-read works in any language have much to say about the ways in which people work to injure and destroy each other's properties and bodies.  Even many texts which perhaps do not count as "literary" treat the matter; most systems of martial arts have guidebooks written by advanced and expert practitioners of those arts, and militaries throughout the world publish manuals to assist in training people better how to kill.  Because so much effort is spent in describing and teaching fighting in the written word and other media, it seems appropriate to examine such depictions to uncover what they say about their writers, their readers, and the world in which they all exist.  This panel [Them's Fightin' Words] seeks to examine overt, and explicate covert, textual discussions of how best to fight; abstracts of papers for possible inclusion in the session are welcome.  They should be no more than 300 words and should be sent to before the end of the business day on 14 February 2014.
Works in any textual or verbal medium are up for consideration: books, movies, covertly recorded training sessions with grand masters of esoteric physical disciplines, okuden, or whatever else uses words and/or sequenced images to try to teach ways to take apart things violently (or less so, as the case may be).  There is much material dealing with teaching people how to enact harm, and so there is ample opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves, each other, and the cultures in which we are enmeshed through the study of that material.  Your contribution to that study is most welcome.

Friday, January 3, 2014


There is a sense that falling into a routine is somehow a bad thing, that it promotes laziness and a dissatisfaction with the way things are.  In that sense, routines make for grinding boredom, and being bored is to be avoided in the mainstream culture of the United States (how else to account for the ubiquitous mini-game on smartphone and other device?).  And I admit that I have felt some of that sense; I have looked at myself and been disgusted with the rut my steps have carved as I have gone about the daily circuits I have set for myself.  I have thought that I should do something different, equating different with better in my mind, as if to change is necessarily to improve.

It is not, of course.  The last time I complained aloud of being bored was in the summer of 2002.  I was spending time at my parents' house in the Texas Hill Country (I am sure I will come up with a name for the place soon), and I had spent most of a week rereading Asimov's Robot, Empire, and Foundation novels.  My mother chastised me for not going out into the town and seeing what it had to offer.  (I wonder if she had forgotten in that moment that I had grown up in the town and knew well what it had to offer--including people around whom I am still uncomfortable more than a decade later.)  In curmudgeonly indignation, I replied that the town bored me, and that I found escape from that grinding boredom in the books I was reading--and nowhere else that was readily available to me.

The next day, it began to rain.  Over the next two or three days, some fifty-one inches of rain fell on and around my hometown, and that much rain will flood most any place.  In the Hill Country town of my youth, it caused flash flooding; my parents' house stands a lot away from and some twenty feet above a creek, and in the time it took to look from backyard to front yard and back, the creek rose such that we could see its foaming top from the house.  We could see the waters raging through our part of town, backing up against the woodpile that my mother and I demolished in the vain hope of easing the flow (although I remain proud to have tossed about massive chunks of wood--Hill Country post oak cut no smaller than yard-long cylinders half a yard across--as though they were paper).  We could see our kitchen become creek-front property as the living room became creek bed.  And we could see what was left when the rains stopped and the flood waters finally flowed away: houses shifted from their foundations or swept away altogether, people's lives waterlogged and ruined, and the slow efforts to repair and restore things begun.  (Nobody died in the flood, as I recall, and injuries were minor at most.  Fortunately, for many backs were needed to bend beneath the work to follow.)

It was an exciting time, certainly.  But it was not worth the price exacted for it.  And if I over-assert my importance to think that my complaint triggered the weather and the upstream dam failure that created the flood, neither am I willing to take the chance that it did not.  I will not need to have the lesson repeated; boredom is sometimes a good thing.  If nothing else, it means things are not going wrong.  Routines, therefore, are not so bad as they are sometimes thought to be.  Not necessarily.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


The lamentation rings through the air
And through the online ether
That language is dead
That culture is dead
That the children of today will become the dependent of tomorrow

The lamentation rings through the air
And through the online ether
That money has become the sole determiner of worth
That culture is dead
That corporate practice is become the only practice worth noting

The lamentation rings through the air
And through the online ether
That celebrity is all
That culture is dead
That the children of today seek only spotlight without substance

The lamentation rings through the air
And through the online ether
That there is no hope
That culture is dead
That we are the ones who killed it

And it may be that there is no hope
That the damage seen as done
Has been done and is actually damage
And that there is no way now to change it
But that is no reason not to try.
If we cannot by our efforts change things
We can at least be less complicit in them

So I remain
Pen in hand instead of sword
Reenacting in a small way
The struggles of Æsir
Against Jötnar and Muspellsmegir
Perhaps I will be more like the sons of the strongly girdled
Than the one-eyed spearman or the red-haired hammerman

Perhaps others will be, as well

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


It has been three years now since I have made a blog post on Hangover Day.  While I had thought to wax rhapsodic about past New Year's experiences, I realized as I attempted to write several that I would be ill-served by doing so.  There are enough such narratives about already, narratives better documented than any I might muster and doubtlessly far more entertaining that any I have yet experienced, holiday or otherwise.  I need not add to them; I will write otherwise, instead.

My beloved wife and I traveled to the City of Thunder once again yesterday, passing over the wind-swept plains in haste to return to the offices of our perinatologist.  Our child was weighed and measured, and found sufficient; the physician noted that all looks well with the life growing inside my wife.  It is a comfort to know that things appear to proceed as they ought to for the baby.

In the above paragraph, I once again use one of the kennings of which I am fond and which I recall having discussed recently.  The device, a poetic renaming of a thing based upon its qualities and cultural associations it has (so a form of metonymy, really), is one typical of Germanic poetries; Beowulf uses it abundantly, as do the Icelandic sagas, and I, as a student of such things, find that it creeps into my usage as well.  It is not a roach that I seek to eliminate it but despair of ever doing so, but a gem unlooked-for that enriches whoever picks it up.

Such devices do move away from the literal, I know.  They are bits of figurative language that require background knowledge and understanding to untangle, and so they are in some senses distractions from the thrust of what is being put across.  For that reason, they are disfavored in technical writing and reporting.  Yet they are a means through which features of culture are passed forward, and they are a means through which the use of language may be made beautiful.  They allow writers and readers to exceed themselves, engaging more fully in the dialogue that the best writing is and thereby entering into the greater communion of the world.

If, then, I write of the City of Thunder as it sits as the chosen seat of the chosen rulers of the wind-swept plains of sweet-smelling wheat, then I write in a place not only where I write but that acknowledges the NBA, theoretically-representative federated government, and Rogers and Hammerstein, and I am connected thereby to the communities that understand and engage with such things.  It is far more interesting than to simply state that my wife and I went to Oklahoma City, and this context of writing is one in which interest is rewarded.

Others look for the concision above other concerns, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I am capable of writing in such a way, which I know from having done a fair bit of it and having taught others to do so (unlike Shaw and unfortunately many others, I do not think that teaching allows me to not know what I am doing).  But this is not one of those circumstances.  This is more hortatory and epideictic, and if I am to praise a thing that demands skill in the writing and the reading, I ought to show that skill, myself.  Hence the several metonymies in the piece--and the many others that will follow after.