Friday, February 28, 2014


Somehow, I have made it through another month.
Somehow, I have seen how things are changing.
Somehow, I have held things up even as I have seen
How provisional, how precarious, my current life is.

Somehow, I will make things work.
Somehow, I will find stability.
Somehow, I will press on even as I toil
To find work to do and seem to search in vain.

Somehow, I am going to write more.
Somehow, I am going to teach better.
Somehow, I am going to do all of the things
That need doing, and doing by me.

Somehow, I am going to keep up hope.
I have to; no other choice can be accepted.
My life is not my own and has not been for some time.
Those invested in it deserve a return.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


I can happily report that the baby is doing well.  She eats much, which is a helpful sign (and more for me than for her mother, which may or may not be), and she gives evidence of digesting things well, which is good, if less pleasant to handle.  Her lungs, for which we had been concerned because of her early arrival, appear to be in fine form, and her color is much better--she had been fairly jaundiced, and now she is not.  At root, then, her mother and I are happy that things are going as well with the baby as they are; may they continue to do so!

Writing the short report above puts me in mind of pronouns.  (I teach English and deal with 1,500 years of the language at a crack as part of my research.  Such things are often on my mind, and appropriately.)  Those who have been reading will note that references to our daughter before the online announcement of her name are carefully gender-neutral; I have considered the issue of over-sharing about my child, and as part of my worry, I had made a point of restricting certain pieces of knowledge, including the child's physical gender.  (I never went so far as Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, however.)

The task was made more difficult by one of the limitations of modern English: the lack of an animate third-person singular pronoun.  The same phenomenon that drives the use of "they" and "their" and which I and many of my colleagues feel obliged to penalize in academic writing does make for a challenge in referring to persons whose gender is either unimportant (which, really, is true in all circumstances other than finding a sexual partner) or indeterminable.  I have not participated extensively in the arguments about what to deploy instead of the commonly-understood-as-sexist-anymore "neutral" masculine* or the awkward-and-still-potentially-sexist he/she, she/he, or s/he constructions.**  (This leaves aside the issue of how many genders there are, which is not nearly so clear as might be assumed.)  I am aware of several ideas, and each has merit--but each has flaw, as well.

Not least of these is the mismatch between what might be called a more nuanced ethics and social expectations.  Certainly, the demands of surrounding people should not be used as the sole (or perhaps even primary--ad populum, remember) determiner of "right" thinking or behavior, but identity is, to a significant extent, socially constructed; we know who we are (insofar as we know who we are) in no small part because other people tell us, tacitly and explicitly.  My family and I must live in the world until we are called out of it, and that means that we will have to adjust our actions to the needs of others in certain ways--including what words we use.  There is relatively little argument about the restriction of other words in certain contexts--we contest not much the censure (not censorship) of obscenity or of epithet.  There is similarly relatively little complaint about the imposition of certain terms in certain other contexts--that fields use their jargons is expected, and deviation from them produces problems.  That we then conform to prevailing standards of pronoun usage for ourselves and our daughter, then, should occasion no comment.  But neither should we be bound to it as it seems we currently are and likely will continue to be.

*This is dumb, of course, since the biological default is feminine, as I tell my students.  Else, gentlemen, why have you nipples and an X chromosome?

**Potentially sexist because they still privilege one gender; one still comes first.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The South Central Writing Center Association conference is coming up, and I might breeze by it; my current institution is hosting it, and I have fond memories of the conference.  It was, in fact, my first; in 2006, I presented two papers in collaboration with colleagues.  One of the presentations allowed me to play with Duplo blocks (something I will doubtlessly be doing again in the next few years).  Somewhere, I may still have the t-shirt from the other presentation--somewhere.  And the outside activities that happened on that long-ago trip to Little Rock...I am glad to have done them, but I am equally glad not to have had photos.  (Lord, I hope there are no pictures!)

Knowing that the conference is coming reminds me to think about my work as a writer and as a teacher of writing.  (It does not take much prompting, admittedly.)  It reminds me that the process of putting ideas into words and putting those words where others can see them and get some of the idea is not a solitary process--not if done well.  It is inherently collaborative.  The ideas themselves come from the interaction of the writer (insofar as the writer can be said to have an authentic "self" from which to write and act--a different discussion altogether) and world, and reading is necessarily an interaction between writer and reader through the medium of the written word.  And it is usually more explicitly collaborative.  Writers are well served to have editors and reviewers pore over what they put onto the page, engaging with their comments and returning to the text to improve upon it (with "improve upon" meaning "make correspond more closely with the initial idea").  Sometimes, the initial writing is itself collaborative, with writers working together to make the writing happen.

Too often, I operate as what I think is an independent agent when I write.  I encourage my students to do the same--"Do your own work" or "This is not a collaborative exercise."  And it is the case that the individual writer must contribute much to the writing.  To belong with a group necessitates conformity to the prevailing group standards, and a group of writers must necessarily demand writing from each of its members therefore.  Given the level of writing I usually teach, I am only mildly conflicted about demanding "solitary" work from my students (with "solitary" in scare quotes because I demand peer review of them and encourage them to attend the local writing center--those who do the latter tend to perform much better).  They are still in development, still learning how to contribute their appropriate part to greater writing tasks.

Yet I must at the same time wonder if I am doing them a disservice in confining them, if the curriculum I am obliged to follow is stripping something from them in the mandate that their work be the kind of work that it is (at the one level; other writing classes I have taught oblige group work).  My own experience as a writing student discouraged working with others; now, when I must, I do so only with difficulty.  I do not know if I am doing the same thing to those under my tutelage.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It is admittedly later in the day than I am accustomed to writing the little pieces I post in this webspace.  The obvious reason for the delay is the correct one; my people are more important than my offhanded work.

To the discussion: While I was talking with my wife this morning, she made the (somewhat cliché) comment that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil."  Because I disapprove of clichés generally and think about them often, both in my capacity as a teacher of students and in my capacity as a scholar of language, I decided to follow up on the idea the aphorism encapsulates, that the loudest complaint receives redress fastest.

One response that came to mind as I was talking with my wife was the (equally cliché, for which I apologize) note that "the nail that sticks out gets pounded first."  That is to say, of course, that the prominent is singled out for reprisal.  Another, similar response is that the squeaking wheel gets replaced rather than oiled, with yet another being that the squeaky wheel may well get the whole unit discarded and replaced.  In each, the result of complaint is not so much that the complaint is redressed but that the complainer is removed.  The one with a grievance is dismissed; the protestor is arrested and that which is protested remains in place.  The problem endures.

It is, admittedly, not a happy line of thought.  Yet it is one that is too frequently in accord with observable reality.  While it does happen that loud complaints annoy those in power enough that some change is effected, it happens only rarely and only partially.  Far more likely is it that those who call attention to problems are perceived as being the problem of causing the problem, and that their identifying what is wrong serves to identify them as being what is wrong, thus in need of excision from the body of whatever group has the problem.  That there are such things as the Whistleblower Protection Programs bespeaks the prevalence of the behavior; there would not be a structure in place to prevent a thing if it were not seen as happening, and the structure would not be so large were the thing not itself extensive.

It is perhaps a thing I can bring to my students, the idea that informs this piece.  I abjure clichés in student writing, pushing my students to find newer and better ways to put their ideas--and to find better ideas to try to put into words.  One of the ways I do so is to point out the inaccuracies in many such phrasings.  Another is to point out the likely unintended connotations (and denotations!) of the phrases, such as here.  Frequently, the blithe use of clichés and their close companions among the trite, deployed in an attempt to "sound good," ends up making the writing mean something that the writer does not want to have it mean; there is always such a danger (the meanings of words change, among other things), but the inattention that typifies cliché usage increases that danger substantially--and needlessly.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Strains of Stevie Wonder have echoed in my head
One of his Songs in the Key of Life
These past few days

I often think on the music of the 1970s
It is the music my mother played and sang
And I still turn to it for comfort

I have not the skills of that blind Motown man
My voice will not raise seraphic
My fingers work on different keyboards entirely

Still, it would be good to sing
Instead of shouting from the rooftops
As I have it to do

It would be good to sing
For the events of recent days have been as worth song
As any bard-craft's matter

Instead, I write
Inking onto the pages such records of events
As I have seen and can scribble down

I do not assume my words will have such force
To stay in the mind as the blind man's songs
But they need writing, regardless

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Now that the girl is home and things can actually begin to take on some semblance of normalcy,* I can actually take a few minutes to sit and write, if not so many as might be hoped.  I have wanted to do so over the past few days--I feel something of the Good Doctor's dictum about reasons for writing--but the frenetic pace since Wednesday has prevented me from doing more than a very little.  And not only in the sharp limits on the amount of time that I may spend in writing amid feeding and changing the kid have I felt it; my mind has been, appropriately, otherwise occupied.  (How much better now do I understand Woolf's discussion of one's own room!  I had intellectually engaged with the idea before, but the taste of things I have had in the past few days...the visceral experience matters.)

One thing that the past few days have shown me is just how delicately balanced daily life is, how contingent upon things being just as they are and "ought to be."  Being away from things for the few days I was left much undone or done badly because done in extreme haste--and the things normally done by others, such as my wife (not because of any demands I place upon her in my own person, but because she decides that they are what she wants to do for me and for us, as I do such things for her and for us), were in similar state.  Realignment from them and returns to smooth operations, adjusted for the presence in the household of another (and it is strange and terrifying to find myself a parent), will take some time.

Even so, it is happening.  With the help of a great many people, we are getting adjusted to this new way of living, and I am well aware that we will be doing so for the rest of our lives.

*I know that there are going to be...adjustments made with the newborn at home.  But it is far better to have to deal with those adjustments here than to try to do them running between Sherwood Cottage and the hospital.  That we need not do so is what I mean by the semblance of normalcy.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


There is only one note that needs to be made: my wife and I brought our daughter, Octavia Priscilla Elliott, home from the hospital today.  Mother and child are well, which is very much appreciated.

More will follow later; for now, I have much that I must do.  Tavvy needs supporting somehow...

Friday, February 21, 2014


First, my thanks go to all those who have wished the expanded family well, as well as to those who have offered their help and who have come (or are coming) to help .  Kind thoughts are greatly appreciated, as are kind deeds.

Second, about the new little one: the child was taken off of oxygen support yesterday and has been with my wife in her hospital room since yesterday afternoon.  (I am at Sherwood Cottage to be better prepared for work today; I will be sleeping at the hospital tonight.)  The baby has eaten and has already given her father a chance to practice diaper-changing a couple of times.  (I imagine the novelty will wear off soon.)  We look forward to having the kid home this weekend; I am the wrong kind of doctor to know on my own whether or not we can do so, so I will be listening to the physicians about the matter.

My lovely Mrs. is recovering well from her own surgery; as noted, the baby was early, and given events, came into the world by an imperial path, and that takes its toll on the mother.  She is looking forward to being home as much as I am looking forward to having her and the kid home.

Given the current upheaval, I will not be as able to write as I might otherwise prefer; I will post again as I can...

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Some will already know.  Others will want to know.  Thus, briefly:

My wife and I are now proud parents; our child was delivered yesterday.  The kid is a bit earlier than expected (due date was 26 March), but baby and we are well.

Now the fun begins.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Given the social onus under which those who teach in the United States operate, particularly those who teach in the "useless" fields of the humanities, the question might well be asked as to why any of us do it.  One answer to it, of which I was recently reminded, is that teaching allows us to re-experience the initial rush of engagement with what is being taught; we get to see things anew again, and with each new viewing, more of what we love is revealed to us.  Being reminded of that love and being able to deepen it do much to make teaching worthwhile.

My literature class offered me such an experience last week.  While I was lecturing on some piece of Middle English literature or other, I did as I often do and stopped to ask for questions.  One came quickly, and the class turned to discuss it.  (I was glad of it; student learning works better when students drive it.)  As it happens, the question centered on a single line of text, one that had escaped my notice as I had read leading up to the lecture.  (I am certain I saw it before, but not this time.)  I commended the student on catching the note, albeit with a bit of a sheepish aspect to me (the repeated lesson of humility...), and class moved on with all of us having a better understanding of the text being read.  That, I certainly appreciate.

Admittedly, it is not a flawless method.  For one, new realizations necessarily mean that the old are insufficient--and they can be exposed...interestingly, as I note above.  For another, students are not always so willing to go along with things or to run ahead.  Sometimes, they are instead stubbornly opposed to opening up to new ideas and understandings, or they have by abusive educational policies at lower levels come to expect that "teaching" follows Friere's banking model, with the instructor depositing knowledge into them so that they may withdraw it at the appropriate time (and the accounts are not interest-bearing).  I caution them against the desire to have me take such an info-dump on them, for I know it will be flushed away (and the metaphor of student and toilet that model promotes is not lost on all of them).

That the method has problems is not a reason to discard it, however.  I have been told that much the same thing is true of parenting (although I have some weeks left before I get to experience it myself); the new child allows the parents to experience the world anew and to see the development of understanding take place, although at the cost of sleepless nights and splatters of various excrescences.  Nor is the child always willing to open up to new ideas and understandings (problems of feeding come to mind, as does my own not-infrequently-belligerent resistance to experiences my parents offered me--for which I expect kharmic retribution in the not-too-distant future).  Yet parenting is often viewed as a good and worthy thing; perhaps the issue is one of scale, since I do not place my teaching work on a level with my upcoming parenting work.  But maybe it has given me a bit of practice I can use therein.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


As I knew that I would be busy over the past weekend, I wrote several posts ahead of time and scheduled them to update automatically.  In one sense, it worked well; I was able to have material pop out while freeing up my time to attend to other matters of some importance.  The writing does not stand out as being produced and distributed in any unusual way--in part because a great many people do such things--and it has allowed me to maintain at least the appearance of writing consistently across the days.  So I am not displeased with the evident results of having scheduled posts ahead of time.

That is not to say that I am entirely pleased, however.  There is one sense in which my setting up posts for later publication very much displeases me: doing so makes it easy for me not to spend time writing each day.  After all, one of the reasons that I maintain this blog, that I have made the effort to do so in earnest since the end of April 2013, is to give myself daily or near-daily practice in writing, and in writing such that people other than myself can read it.  (I have kept a journal more or less regularly for many years now, but only I ever look at it--which is probably for the best.  Too, my handwriting is...not good, so that typing is much to be preferred.)  The practice has helped me to write in a way I hope is better (with "better" being "more easily read by non-specialist audiences" as much as anything else), more freely, and more quickly.  It has also served as a way for me to get my mind working in the morning, as the exercise I have noted before.  And as with physical exercise, I am able to feel the difference in my performance when I miss a day.  (The idea gives me pause at going back to the gym or to the dojo.  I have been away for a while.  I will have lost much.)

Returning to daily writing yesterday after more or less taking the weekend off from it was difficult.  My thoughts were sluggish, and even when they got moving, they did not move well.  I was finally able to come up to speed and to something like my usual level of performance, but it took a while, and the lag managed to affect other people than myself.  (My job is one of mental effort and service to others thereby.  When I am not at my peak, I cannot help them reach their own.)  It was decidedly annoying, the more so because I was aware of it (can those unaware really be annoyed?), and so I think that I will not be doing so much writing ahead--at least not in this webspace.  There are other venues which will reward my doing so, certainly, and I need to attend to them.  But in this, I need to write daily.  I simply do not do well to do otherwise.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Despite being a great indoorsman, I am happy to see that the weather is warming around Sherwood Cottage.  I am happy to see the sun up and out for longer; it gives me better light by which to do my work on The Work, which has not proceeded as I would have it do for the past few days.  (Other matters have intervened--worthwhile matters, certainly, but not what I most want to be doing.)  It also puts me in a better frame of mind to attend to the needs of those in my charges personal and professional.

The winter cold and darkness does not affect me so much as it does others, I think.  Something in my nature does well in such circumstances; they tend to promote quiet and introspection, and I find both congenial.  Still, I cannot say that the change from it is unwelcome; unlike many who work in the ivory tower and who dwell within it, unlike many of my fellow successors of Chaucer's Clerk, I recognize the need to have acts upon which to reflect and deeds to contemplate in the long, dark, cold days and nights when Boreas speaks loudest of his brethren.

(I realize such descriptions are geographically biased; not all places feel the cold, and among those that do, some see winter blown by the South Wind and not the North.  But I can only write what I know, and while I have known the lands where winter seldom comes, I have never known those where winter is July--so I apologize that my Australian friends and South African are excluded, but I cannot adjust to suit the apology.)

I am pleased, therefore, to see that the many-throated call which I joined seems to have been in part answered.  (The weather is pleasantly spring-like, but the temperatures look like they will drop again, if perhaps not so far; I have not packed away my thermal underwear quite yet).  And I look with some pity enhanced by greater sympathy for those who have yet to see the hint of summer; here, it is icumen in (lhude sing, cuccu!), but this is far from true in some places.  Jack Frost's middle name begins with A, perhaps, and ends in S, and it only has three letters (there is probably a poem in there somewhere); he remains in his accustomed places.

As the weather warms, I wonder if I will thaw, as well, and work more on The Work than I have done.  I wonder if the backlog of work that I have let accumulate will be carried out on currents spawned from the breakup of cold crystal clots in such vessels as are given to me.  I certainly hope so, for pressure is building up behind, and what is useful in a controlled stream is destructive and wasted if a single wave from a burst barrier batters the surrounding lands.  The winter quiet has been good, indeed, but I am far from unhappy to see the sun again.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


You are not weird.

I know that you claim to be
Pretend to be
Think you want to be
But you do not really know what it means
You only know what you have been told
By TV shows
And movies
And Austin
That show a sanitized version of actual weirdness
Heavily made-up people
Whose "bad" sartorial choices reflect fashion magazines
More than the closets of those who do not care
Falsely awkward people
Who protest having crushing social anxiety and other problems
Yet still manage to surround themselves with friends
And relate to them well
People who were supposedly bullied
Or supposedly still are
Yet they show no marks on body or mind to show that they have been abused
And in all too many cases they are themselves the abusers

This is not weird
And you who emulate it are likewise not weird
You cannot be
If you mimic what is spoon-fed through mass media

Weird is what gets you ostracized
Forced out
Abused by others and eventually yourself
Weird is when you are told
That you are too smart
Too ugly
Too other
For some other reason than the many bad reasons people hate people
(Skin color, ethnic heritage, sexual identity, and the like)
(There are some good reasons to hate people)
And you are not so much asked to change as punished before you can have the opportunity to change

Weird is wanting to conform
Thinking that doing so will make things better
(It does not
But only exchanges the one problem for another
There is no net gain
Although there may well be a seeming small-scale benefit)
Yet not knowing how to do so and not really understanding why it ought to be so
(It is not difference and caring about being not-different
That is instead called strength and self-assurance
And it is eminently desirable
Weird tends to lack it)

You already conform
You do not seek to conform
And because you are already among the throng
You are not weird.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Today is my maternal grandmother's eighty-fifth birthday, so the thing to say is "Happy Birthday, Grandma!"  (I hope the gift makes it to you in good order.)

I have been lucky to know both of my grandmothers, as I know not all people are.  The grandmother whose birthday it is I know fairly well; she has lived with my parents across much of my life (she lives with them now, in fact) and did much to raise my brother and me.  I do not always agree with her (I do not always agree with anybody), and she has her...issues...but I love her dearly, and I have always been able to depend on her love and support (even if she sometimes rails against "highfalutin' professors" such as I more or less am).

That I am a reader is obvious.  That my grandmother encouraged me in my reading, I have discussed in one way, but that was not the only way.  One of the furthest-back memories I can call up, in fact, is of her taking me to a local book exchange when I was five or six.  I remember walking the stacks and marveling at the sheer number of books on the shelves; I still fantasize about owning such a store, in fact.  (Imagine that, an English professor dreaming of owning a bookstore--such a quiet, staid, and ultimately depressing fantasy, given that "books are dying."  Then again, so is the professoriate...)  The early visit, though, began to introduce me to communities of reading, although I did not realize it until many years later.  (I was in kindergarten.  Give me a break.)

Even now, my grandmother and my wife exchange books (not often, perhaps); their tastes in pleasure reading are somewhat similar (and give me reason to laugh from time to time).  They talk about their shared reading, and my grandmother and I talk about some of the other reading she does and has done (although our tastes in pleasure reading differ substantially, as do the ways in which we read--but that is to be expected).  She remains a lynchpin of the reading life of my family--and I pray that she will do so for many years to come; it would be good for my child to be so generationally steeped in the love of the printed word.

I tell many stories about my grandmother, of course.  Having known her for over thirty years now gives me access to a great many of them.  Some of them are even funny.  Many of them are stories of her importance to me.  (I am aware of the egotism therein.)  How many more there will be is unclear to me, but for those I have and those I hope to have, I am grateful, as I am for having had in my life the woman who gave rise to them.  I love you, Grandma, and I hope that you have a remarkably happy birthday this year, next, and for more that I cannot yet see.

Friday, February 14, 2014


I suppose the thing to do today is to make an insipid post about the love for others--but especially "significant others"--the "holiday" is "supposed" to be about or to rant against it for being no longer a holiday / a misappropriation of a feast day / a misappropriation of pagan holidays / a grotesque wallowing in capitalistic excess.  But I do not feel like doing any of these things, so I guess I get to be left out of the festivities by choice.  Again.

I do have to think, however, about how I will end up presenting such things to my child in the years to come.  I do not want my child to suffer exclusion as I did (partly by my own devices, partly by others'), and inclusion necessarily entails some buying-in.  One cannot effectively celebrate a thing without accepting it to some degree, I think; even the crass commercialism of the US Christmastide still calls itself by the name of "Christmas," so there is (at least vestigial) acknowledgement of the day as a religious holiday (problematic, I know).  And so my child will in some senses have to be...enmeshed in the prevailing broader cultural narratives--or else made an easy target for bullying and torment.

At the same time, I do not want to be in the position of lying to the kid, of teaching the kid what I know is...inaccurate.  Nor do I want to foster the blithe disregard for convention that the dissonance between what I know and what the schools will doubtlessly propagate (although what will be the standard curriculum by then, I am not sure--and I am not optimistic) will foster; I well remember landing myself squarely in trouble for voicing the contradiction, subject to what I viewed as an oppressive measure (although one I recognize now as less inappropriate than I did then--the action was correct even if the motive was not) and looking at that oppression as the frantic efforts of a corrupt, idiotic system to sustain itself.  I well remember acting on the consistent belief that my teachers were fools (admittedly, some were, but many were not), thus undeserving of my respect, and thus not offered my respect.  I well remember also that the attitude made things harder for me later on; for example, I could have had much better initial funding for college than I did (not that I am ungrateful for what I did get).  And I would spare my child learning the lesson as I did if I might.

So I am already looking at a dilemma of parenting thanks to Valentine's Day.  And I have to wonder how many other parents have looked ahead and worried about what is to come, worried about how to negotiate between the demands of society and the demands of truth, worried about how to pass along the understanding earned without necessarily passing on the pain through which it was earned.  (Most, probably, or I hope so.)  I am glad, therefore, that I do not have to do it alone; entirely appropriately for the day, and for all other days, I can say that I am lucky to have the wonderful wife I have.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Over the past few years, when I have had the opportunity to take part in role-playing games, I have usually done so as the game master--the person who serves as referee for the game and who does the work of developing the basic storyline to follow.  The pattern has held true with the game I am currently poised to play; I am running the thing, and so I am tasked with developing the story in as much detail as I can.  (I cannot do all of it, of course.  Part of the point of the exercise is that the storytelling is collaborative.  Daniel Mackay's The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art discusses the idea in detail.)

As I have begun to do so, I have found that the chapters I write (and I am structuring the overall story--the campaign--much as a prose romance, with books and chapters) have ended up hinging on a single choice, from which players can reasonably follow one of two paths.  (There are always other options, like trying to kill everybody in the room.  Given the setting, it is not likely to go well; there are safeguards against that sort of thing.)  I have tended to call them the Greater and Lesser Paths; the Greater Path tends toward the heroic and selfless, the Lesser toward the villainous and self-interested.  And I find that I have been writing the Lesser Path in each chapter before the Greater.

Surely it says something about me that I find it easier to begin by thinking about what will happen when the plan goes wrong than I do about the plan itself.  My beloved wife, who is well acquainted with my habits (and encourages some of them), posits that it is my long experience as a game master that tells me to do this.  The plan will always go wrong, the players will always do something unexpected and different than the main story calls for, and railroading--forcing players to go along with the pre-determined plot--is almost universally regarded as bad.  (All choices might return to a single thread, but there has to be the element of choice involved.  I am sure there are studies of this; I would like to see them, so if you know of any, please let me know about them.)  I try to be a good game master, so I have to avoid the railroad, and so I have to have the contingencies worked out.

I wonder, though, if it instead speaks to a broader pessimism about the world.  I do not (usually) have stupid people at my table; my players are usually very aware of things and of the potential consequences of their actions.  Their characters are built with the information in mind that I provide them, and I offer a lot of background knowledge at the asking.  I ought to be able to trust them to make the right choice ("right" determined by the milieu; stories happen in contexts), yet I work as though I do not.  That I do says more of me than of them, and none of it good.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


In preparation for the arrival of our child, my wife and I have been attending child-birthing classes at the local hospital.  (I can say such a thing because there is only the one.)  Since I am and have been a teacher, I have found myself assessing the instructor's ability to be in front of the class, which has not always been the kindest thing for me to do.  She is, after all, a nurse and trained to be a nurse--which is a skill-set entirely different from that of teaching.  The training work she does is only part-time; her calling is elsewhere, and the classes are the kind of thing I heard called lagniappe in my graduate work.  They are extra, they are outside her requirements, and so I should not look at her as if she is a professional educator.  (Even so, it is clear to me that she knows the material well, so that my wife and child will be well served to have her as one of their nurses, but how to teach is less certain for her.)

Still, a professional cannot help but filter the world through the profession, and so I have looked at her teaching as teaching.  I know that she is limited in some senses by the pre-approved curriculum that has been determined for her, and I am sympathetic to that limitation; I have long operated under similar restrictions.  (Sometimes they have been better than others.  I am far more amenable to teaching a course of study prescribed by those who are specialists in the field and more qualified than I am to one mandated by a person who claims to be an expert yet is less qualified than I am in it, who cannot comment on the current best practices due to a lack of knowledge that there even are best practices.  But I digress.)  It is not the instructor's fault that the materials she is obliged to use are insipid, speaking as if to children who are unaware of the basic processes by which life maintains itself.  (Then again, given what I know of local curricula, it is entirely possible that such lessons were omitted from the classroom, and given what I know of local parents, many are not qualified to talk about the issue themselves.)  And, in fairness, it is not the instructor's fault that I am amid the audience when I am far from being among the target audience (not because I am male, but because I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to gain at least a passing knowledge of such things and smart enough to have seized upon it).

I have wondered also if the way in which the instructor appears to me is like that in which I appear to my students: clearly knowledgeable but clearly not good at putting the material across.  (I think I have the problem opposite that of dumbing down, if I have any such problem.)  Do I seem to them to be badly presenting bad material?  (I am quite certain that some view me so.  I am equally certain that they are the kind of student who looks for the single "right" answer that does not exist in the academic humanities and whose parents use that lack of certainty as justification for the "uselessness" of the academic humanities.  Did they not exert a disproportionate influence on funding and policy-making, I should not be so concerned.)  Or am I once again worrying too much about what I cannot control in the short term?  For it is not seldom the case that the real lesson is not learned until much later, whether in my classrooms or in the classes I attend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Robert W. Goldfarb asserts in the 1 February 2014 New York Times article "Reopening an Employment Door to the Young" that employers should be more willing to hire recent college graduates whose degrees may not be the most "practical," more willing to train said graduates in the demands of the corporate world, and less condemnatory of those graduates.  The author, a management consultant, notes that the unemployment rate among those in their early twenties is half again that of the general public, not because they are not trying to find work, but because the entry-level jobs for which they are applying are being held by financially struggling members of older generations.  Goldfarb adds that it is incumbent upon employers (who are ultimately those who make the decisions about who has jobs, rather than the applicants themselves) to work to alleviate the problem, suggesting that their doing so will "have a competitive advantage as the economy recovers and older workers can afford to retire."

Unfortunately, the article is overly optimistic.  The very people whose complaints Goldfarb uses to introduce his article are those who condemn the pursuit of degrees other than the "useful"--usually STEM fields and business--are the ones he would have to persuade to alter their hiring practices, and they currently have no reason to do so.  As Goldfarb himself notes, there are many experienced workers willing to work entry-level jobs, and by the time things recover enough that those workers can move on (either to higher-level jobs or retirement), there will be a plethora of younger applicants who have grown up to the refrain of the only worthwhile degrees being those that are technical and career-focused to succeed them.  Those who are currently out of work (or who are underemployed) will not benefit from the jobs potentially available at that time; they will be too far removed from current training to be employable, rendered stale by being out on the looking-for-work shelf for too long.

I teach in the academic humanities, one of the areas employers frequently deem less than useful (despite remarks by such people as Kyle Weins who refuse to hire those who do not do well with what I and mine are traditionally tasked with teaching and other, somewhat older, comments in the same line).  I have heard thousands of variations on the theme of "You should have gone into something worthwhile," including from the people whom I had thought would support me in all of my decisions and from myself in my darker moments.  I am aware, more than many others (although not more than my colleagues, who operate under a similar onus), that there is a prevailing disregard for those whose training is like mine--and more so for those whose training is most like mine, who have gone through the work of earning multiple degrees in "useless" fields.  We are the off-brand, the generic version, normally only desirable because easier to find and cheaper to procure--but there is a clearance sale on top-line models, and they are fools among the financially centered who pass up such deals.

Monday, February 10, 2014


I made the comment not too long ago that English majors ought to know better than to do some certain things.  It occurs to me now that there is something a bit...unfair about that comment.  Senior and graduate English majors ought to know better, sure, but the lower-division folks (freshmen* and sophomores) have not really had the opportunity yet to learn.  I have to wonder, therefore, how appropriate it is of me to hold them to a standard to which they may well not have been introduced.

Thinking back over what I have modeled for the students, however, I think that I have been introducing them to the standards of performance.  My own comments are more or less considered; practice does allow me to do so more quickly than my students can achieve, and it remains the case as ever that when I re-read what is written, I come to understand more about it.  (How else is it that more is found to say about the Bard or the Well of English Undefiled after hundreds of years?)  Those students whose submissions do the things they ought get explicit commendation from me, and I even note that they are models to be followed by their classmates (something like "This is the kind of work I like to see my students do").  Those whose work does not do what I want it to do get quiet, private admonishments from me, exhortations to do better and suggestions about what that "better" may mean.**  (Quick emails are helpful.)  So I am convinced that they are, in fact, introduced to the model.

Some are admittedly quicker studies than others.  I find that I hold no ire for those who are not but who are clearly trying to be; Lord knows that I need some lessons repeated often enough (for example, this).  I do shake my head at the folly, for some of the students who need such repetition are quite intelligent and engaging in the classroom, and apply grade penalties as appropriate.  There is not much I can do otherwise; I continue to teach, I reach out as I can, and those students who reach back find a hand waiting to help them up and dust them off so that they can continue on their way.  Those who do not reach out...I have many students who do seek actual help (not "Just tell me what to do to get the grade"), and I do what I can to help them.

Self-examination is frequent.  (It cannot be constant, else work on The Work could not be done.)  Self-improvement is hopefully only slightly less frequent; it is too much to think either that improvement will not often be necessary or that opportunities for improvement will always be identified.  And I hope to be able to apply what I learn about myself and about the world as I become a better teacher to other areas of my life that are by far more important.

*I wonder at the continued gendering of the term.  Despite institutions I know transitioning to calling some courses "first-year" rather than "freshman," the classification remains labeled by its old exclusivist name.  Ought we perhaps to develop a better?

**"Better" requires "good," and what is good is subject to debate and interpretation.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


I had thought to get out of bed this morning at my workday time of five.  Despite it being ostensibly a day of rest, I had wanted to get going early and see if I could in some way justify my own existence to myself through producing something more than I did yesterday.  But I am not off to a good start; I only rolled out of bed at about half past eight, spurred by a full bladder and cats, and it is taking me longer to write what I want to write in this webspace than I am accustomed to it taking.  (Woe is me, I know, and boo hoo, little baby.)

This could be a place to wax rhapsodic, to go on in some impassioned self-investigation of the causes of what seems to be an instance of writer's block.  But I think I have done it before, and too often already, and I know that nobody wants to read about it.  (And one of the cats may be signaling objections to it, too; another gassy excretion seems to be in process as I type.)

This could be a place to comment about the Sochi Olympics...were I following the Olympics this time around.  I am not, however; I usually do not watch the Winter Games.  I do not come from a place that typically has winter, so I do not identify with the Winter Games' sports the way I do with those of the Summer Games, in some of which I have some small experience.  I have not followed the controversies surrounding the event in any detail, although I am aware of Russia's statutes on homosexuality as being behind even those of the United States (which are themselves behind Scotland and South Africa) and of the...interesting construction in Sochi (which is paralleled in the United States, particularly as pertains to the water supply in some places).  In all honesty, I find it somewhat difficult to care about what is happening in the land whose greatest warrior has always been the current season; there are things at home that need fixing.

This could, instead, be a place to comment about something of note.  But I am not sure what it is that I can say that is of note.  My days are different only in that the temperature outside is lower than that with which my upbringing made me familiar, and the wind-swept plains oblige me to be exposed to such things more than did life in The City.  The people with whom I interact are as they were in warmer days and as I expect that they will be again when the warmer days return (doubtlessly to as much complaint as the cold has been provoking).  The work I have to do with them will be much the same, as well.  It is very much the normal I discussed before, a standard that, while varying, very much follows a predictable pattern; it is a basic rhythm and bass line over which a melody is improvised, but those who know me know that I have never been much of a soloist.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


During my morning reading, I ran across something talking about keeping a particular city weird.  It struck me in that moment that there is something disingenuous about claiming to be weird and stating a need to keep that weirdness.  It is as the liar saying "Trust me" all the time, or the comment in Hamlet 3.2 that "The lady doth protest too much"; such places as claim a need to keep themselves a certain way are almost certainly not that way (anymore, if they ever were).

I do not mean by this to say that homogeneity is desirable.  Difference is good; the tension between things that are different is productive, and the challenges to ideas that are necessarily embedded within encounters with the different are useful for the examination and strengthening of self.  What I do mean to say is that the announcement of a certain quality detracts from that quality; if it is actually and authentically embodied, it will be manifest and will therefore not need to be announced as present, and if it must be announced, the effort spent in making the announcement is effort that should instead be directed towards the embodiment of the named quality.  In effect, X saying that X is Y leaves X less able to do what it needs to do to be Y.

Too, the announcement bespeaks uncertainty about the quality.  If a place has to announce that it is weird, it suggests that it is very much not weird.  Austin, for example, is not weird now (if it ever really was).  It convincingly reflects the Williamsburg portion of Brooklyn in many respects; it echoes LA and San Francisco in a number of others; and it is eerily similar to several sections of Washington, DC, in some places.  None of these are unusual (being held up as exemplars in mainstream media for decades tends to familiarize, after all), and the combination of them is not any more odd than are the individual parts.  In essence, Austin is like most other mid-sized cities in the United States; it is overshadowed in large part by its larger neighbors and seeks to assert itself and its identity through a veneer that only lightly overlays a fundamental sameness.

The authentically strange has no need to call attention to its own strangeness.  Indeed, the weirdness will be remarked and commented upon by those who look upon it from within the realm of normalcy, ambiguous as its boundaries are.  And while it is an improvement to look upon the weird and not to reject it as a thing unfit and unclean and seek to destroy it therefore (although not all called "weird" is yet even at that point, more's the pity), it is not exactly complimentary to exploit it--which is what many of the "keep it weird" folks end up doing.  By celebrating the strangeness as strangeness, rather than as the thing which is itself strange, something of a freak-show effect is produced; "Lookit tha', Ma!  Ain't that a freak?" is hardly respectful of a thing or an actual engagement.  It is rather something held up to offer contrast between it and the viewer, usually with the end goal of making viewers feel better about themselves and their purported normalcy.

If the "normal" needs such validation, perhaps it ought not to be the standard by which we make our judgments.

Friday, February 7, 2014


In some of the work that I do, I coach those whose first language is not American English and who are consequently grappling not only with the assimilation and development of disciplinary knowledge but the nuances and inanities of a speech not their own.  In doing so, I am reminded of one of the ways in which I occupy a position of privilege in the United States: I am a native speaker of the dominant language--indeed, of something very much like the "ideal" form of that language--and trained in its history, its literature, and ways to teach it.  I am a door-warden for it, although at a postern rather than at the grand, main gate-house, and I try to let people in.  I am aware that I am obliged by my privilege to work to the benefit of others, directly in my teaching and indirectly in the work that I do on The Work.

I have not always felt such an ethical imperative.  Indeed, I recall several times in my earlier life as a snot-nosed, bratty little shit when I openly and flatly stated that my position of privilege entitled me to benefits rather than obliging me to service.  Because I was smart and capable, people ought to serve me instead of me being expected to benefit them--is not the world supposed to work such that the lesser obey the greater, and did not my talents and skills place me among the greater rather than the lesser?  (I did note that I was a bratty little shit, did I not?)  Why should I put myself to work for people whom I knew held me in low regard, using for them the talents the jealousy of which had motivated them to hold me in that regard?  Should I not instead keep for myself the benefits of my abilities, denying them to others if they did not approach me with the appropriate reverence?  Or such were the things I thought and said when I was a bratty little shit--and I consequently deserved the knuckle-drubbings I received, the censure and the ridicule.

I like to think that I have grown since, and not simply physically.  I like to think that I am no longer a bratty little shit (perhaps a witty big shit?), no longer so hung up on my gifts that I view them as entitling me to...something, for unlike many who grow more selfish and more self-interested as they age, losing youthful idealism for "mature" "practicality," I have become convinced as I have grown older that my abilities are best spent in the betterment of others.  (This is not to say that I would not like a bigger paycheck, of course.  Some of those others are my wife and forthcoming child, and while my gifts themselves do not entitle me to things, the work I do with them deserves compensation.  Or should I work for free and spend myself to nothing in the process?)  And if it still smacks of privilege that I should think of myself in such ways...I know not what to do.  I am not able to divest myself of that privilege; it is extended to me and denied too many others whether we will it or not, and for things over which we have too little control.  (Think on it; I am an Anglo-Saxon-descended heterosexual cis-gendered man of the middle class.  Did I move to change any of that, or to try to, I would immediately be branded as an unacceptable -ist.  And I should not have to give up my identity any more than any other ought to.  It is not less right for me to be Anglo than for a Hispanic to be Hispanic.  It is not less right for me to be heterosexual than for a homosexual to be homosexual, a bisexual to be bisexual, an asexual to be asexual, or another gender-queer person whom I lack the words to describe to be as that person is.  It is not less right for me to be cis-gendered than for a trans-person to be trans-gendered.  And it is not more right for me, either.)  I will admit that it may not be the best solution, but let it be at least less bad of me to have privilege in that I ply it to help those who seek help and offer it to those who have yet to seek it actively themselves.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


One of the things that I try to do in my teaching is offer models for my students to follow.  When I teach literature classes, this takes the form of writing discussion board posts such as I want my students to write and responding to their posts as I hope to see them do for one another.  (It seems to be working decently well this term.)  When I teach writing classes, whatever the sort, I try to offer examples of the writing I want them to do; in effect, I complete the assignment I offer them.  (I am, admittedly, not always as good about doing so as I want or ought to be.  It is a weakness I continue to struggle to address.)

I did so yesterday afternoon, writing a profile essay of the sort I want to see my students write for their second paper.  In the assignment, I am having the students write what amounts to an extended, focused description of a place familiar to them, one that conveys a dominant underlying impression of that place.  The model I produced for them is one that profiles the office I currently share with seven others, one that reminds me in large measure of the situation I was in as a master's student (if with less bookshelf space and a lower ceiling for me).  The setup there was remarkably productive for me; I found my beloved, I found several fine friends, and I began to find my identity as a scholar in that office.

While I doubt that I will find love in my current office, I have already found several other good friends, and I am refining my identity as a scholar more or less constantly.  Part of the latter comes in the form of the many useful interchanges that take place in the office; I learn from my colleagues, both peers and juniors.  (There are a couple graduate students sharing the office space, and I appreciate them, as they help me to feel intelligent by asking good questions that I can answer well.)  I hope that I have been able to contribute at least as much as I have gained; despite the stereotypes of my profession of professing, I do not want to be quite so much a parasite as to take and take and take and not give back at all.  (I have testimonies of my contributions on record, thank you.)

Discussing the places in which we work is well worth doing; it is because of that idea that CCC put forward its call for submissions about locations of writing (for which I wrote about another office I have had--one I miss in form but am glad to have left in context).  The simple fact of place is something that I think is too much overlooked; milieu functions as a character in each of the interlaced narratives of the world's life, and there are some who will argue that it is the protagonist rather than we who tend to tell the stories with ourselves in the title roles.  I do not know that they are wrong...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I had one of the less pleasant experiences of life as a writer and scholar yesterday: setting aside a project as unworkable.  While at work on one of the many essays that lie before me, I realized that I was, in effect, doing nothing more than offering confirmation of a critical theory voiced decades ago.  While there is some value in establishing that a given theory is valid and can therefore be used as an interpretive and evaluative model (which is what literary theory tends to do, rather than providing predictive power as scientific theories tend to do), it was not the project I needed to be writing, particularly not for the venue for which I was writing it.  So I have set it aside.  (I am happily already making progress on another, better project for the venue, one I hope will be taken up for publication--if not there, elsewhere.)

Experience suggests that this will come as a surprise to a number of people.  There is a prevailing concept of writing as an inspired act the flows freely without effort; while there is some truth to inspiration, the impetus itself never suffices.  (I have discussed this before.)  Much effort is involved in making the thing inspired a thing worth reading, and even then, there is no assurance that what is thought to be worth reading actually is (in no small part because the definition of that is is frustrated, Clintonesquely).  Sometimes those efforts lead down false trails--and the trails have to be walked for a while to be known as false.

There is also an idea floating around that pieces of writing, once begun, must be carried out.   A thought, once had, must be developed fully and either let out into the world or shut away--but the idea with which a writer begins has to be that which the writer continues and concludes.  This is not the case.  Essays are trials, by definition, and sometimes that which is tried fails in the testing.  There is no shame in rejecting unsuitable materials or the results of faulty production.  "Creative" writing (as though essays are not themselves creative) works much the same way.  There are times when the story is bad or the lines are, and at such times (absent a personal blog on which to post them) they ought to be discarded.  And this is right and proper; the bad should not be allowed to impede the good.

None of this is to say that it is not annoying to have to set aside work done as work done badly.  Few enjoy the realization of insufficiency even among those who accept the necessity of the realization; that a medical procedure is necessary does not mean that it is not painful or that recovery therefrom is not difficult.  And it is not pleasant to think that time was wasted that could have been sent to better effect on other ideas.  But for that last, there is some comfort; knowing what paths lead to no good end helps to eliminate them from selection, and learning what does not work helps lead to finding what does work, so that the time is not wasted.  The lesson of humility, which seems to need repetition, is also of value, and the experience of putting aside a project as unworkable helps to teach it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


A conversation I had yesterday reminded me of one of my great fears
The loss of my faculties
Of the mental powers that have defined my life
Led me to where I could find love
Sustained me since my early days
Despite my relative lack of social graces and ongoing tendency towards being a hermit

I am reminded of days spent delivering pizzas
Days that found me standing in the lobbies
Of nursing homes
Of mental hospitals
Surrounded by the stink of stale urine
And despair
And the staring eyes going blank
Of those whose minds were leaving them
Or had already fled far away

Even now,
Years and miles away from those days and those places
My throat clenches
My stomach turns
I shudder in revulsion and fear I once held back
(Because such actions do not endear
And my pay was impacted by my being a dear;
There is another story in that)
Not least because I have seem myself among them
Not as transient food-bringer
As inmate as my soul is sealed away
In body and mind made worse than useless

I fear to be trapped
Within myself
Seeing myself stripped away
An onion is the usual image
Being made of many layers that can be peeled away
One at a time
Leaving the onion yet an onion
But less with each peeling
What is not often mentioned is that there is no core
Only another layer

Monday, February 3, 2014


(I had intended to write about something else entirely, but I received some fine news this morning, and so I am going to trumpet it instead.)

Despite its seeming inability to spell, the Tales after Tolkien Society is a major concern of mine.  As I am one of the people whose papers gave rise to it, I think I may safely consider myself something of a charter member of it.  Certainly, when I go to this year's International Congress on Medieval Studies, I will be attending the Society's business meeting, and I have ideas for an agenda to push.

It is because of my association with the Society and my own predilections that, when I saw this CFP from Society founder Helen Young, I responded to it with glee.  And I am glad that I did; I received an email this morning saying that my submission has been accepted.  I would seem to have a book chapter on the way, and I am thrilled about it!

Before the commercial questions come up: I do not know what kind of compensation I will receive for my contribution to the volume other than the line on my CV--although having the publication credit demonstrably contributes to my ability to get jobs in academia.  I may get a little bit of money for the work.  I may get one or two copies of the text for my own.  But I am not sure.

I suppose that some comment may be made regarding the exploitation of the scholarly.  We labor in our cells in the ivory tower despite the uncomfortable chairs, toiling away at The Work and the teaching with which we justify our existence to the outside world. (And teaching is work for which many of us are not paid as we ought to be, with many teaching for less than $3,000 for a fifteen-week course--with no benefits and before taxes, I might add.  That comes out to $200/week/course, with most courses meeting for three hours weekly, so, yes, $66/hour of contact time.  But no instructor I know or have known, from the lowliest adjunct to the most venerable professors emeriti, is only at work during the nine hours per course; I spent at least thrice that on one of my freshman classes last week once lesson planning and grading are taken into account, and I did much the same while I was an adjunct.)  When at last we have something to show for the labor, a finely written piece of criticism that advances human knowledge and understanding, we more or less give it away, satisfied in large part to have helped people to know more (despite ourselves knowing that few will read what we write) and to get the CV line in the hope of getting a job / grant funding / etc.

Despite that, though, I remain happy to be getting my work back into the scholarly public.  Maybe I will be lucky enough to hear myself cited at a conference again; it is quite a nice feeling.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


I am never going to be a mommy blogger.  The gendered nature of the term and my lifelong existence as a heterosexual man preclude it.  But I might well end up being a dad blogger (and I am forced to wonder at the much more prevalent incidence of the diminutive ending on the "mommy blog" than on the "dad blog" that a simple Google search shows).  I am not exactly a stranger to discussing my life online, and my child is already taking up a fair part of my thoughts despite not yet being born.  And this puts me into something of a quandary.

The problem is this: How much of my child's early and later life is it appropriate for me to discuss with the online world?  (I am not even sure how to frame the rest of the discussion, the issue is so fraught for me.)  I fear that if I reveal too much, I will negatively impact the child's future opportunities--for it is known that once a thing is online, it is always available online.  No amount of politely worded requests to stop the spread of online data or threats of punitive action contains the information, and there is always the chance that childhood peccadilloes can result in adult embarrassment and shame.  At the same time, the connection to others that the online environment facilitates can lead to the dissemination of helpful techniques and methods as well as offering sources of support for parents (to the benefit of the children).  And, although perhaps petty, I have the worry that my child would look for my words and, finding none, claim a lack of love on my part (for is it not among the socially-approved if not socially-mandated ways to demonstrate love for something or someone the online discussion thereof?).

My inclination is to limit discussion, to err (if I am to err) on the side of caution and say too little rather than too much.  (An adage attributed to Twain about revealing foolishness comes to mind.)  Those who really need to know about the child will know, because they will ask the parents directly (and will likely be on call for babysitting services); those who do not may still ask, but there is a difference between true interest in the child and polite attention to the parents as people, with questions about the demonstrated interests thereof serving as acknowledgment of shared humanity and worthiness of attention.  (So do not think the fact that I recognize the questions as expressions of politeness means I do not want to field them.  I appreciate people being polite to me.)  And I will doubtlessly still discuss the child online; I already love the little one, and I am not exactly reluctant to discuss what I love, online and off (nor do I think I am to be faulted therefore).

One other thing, so as to be sure about this: Kid, if you are actually looking for what your dad says about you, what it is is that he loves you very much.  Just so you know.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


I am pleased to have made it through another month.  This January was a good one, actually; I wrote more than I had in some time (although, admittedly, not so much as I really ought to have), and I did not have to make sudden trips to the Texas Hill Country because my people and my wife's had diminished.  Too, teaching has begun again, and it seems to be going quite well so far.  There is a marked difference in performance with those who are in a class because they either perceive the need to be there or actually *gasp* want to be there.  It reminds me of why I do this thing that I do (and such reminders are sometimes needed).

Obviously, there is more that needs doing.  The world is still not right, after all, and although my efforts to improve upon it are infinitesimally small against the need for improvement, I must offer those efforts.  My teaching will need to become better, and my work on The Work--the pursuit of Truth through the study of humanity through investigation of its products and the contexts of their production--is not so advanced as I would have it be.  I am fortunate, then, that I have the opportunity to pursue both the betterment of others and of myself in the position I have.  As I search for others, I search mostly among those that will continue to offer me such positions.

As I consider things, I find that I am grateful for the opportunities I have had.  Sure, things could be better (could they not always?); I could have a bigger paycheck and a smaller belly, and a number of other things could be different.  But I am not doing so poorly.  My bills are paid (payday was yesterday) and there is a little money left over.  I do not have to do my work under the threat of murder or torture.  I get to pursue strange ideas with intelligent people and to take those ideas to yet other people and see what they make of them who have not yet been shaped so much by other notions as I have (although they have their own shaping with which to contend).  My life is quiet and settled, not so much subject to massive upheaval, and that allows me to focus on what I feel called to do rather than so much upon the lower Maslovian levels.

I complain, certainly.  Things are not as good as they could be.  But they are also far better than they could be.  I know people who are much, much worse off, and not all of them as a result of their own deeds.  So even amid my complaints, even amid what I voice from time to time that sounds like despair, I know that I have much to appreciate--and I really ought to be better about appreciating it than I am.  I do not want to learn in lamentation what I could have learned in quiet reflection.