Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Hooray! I got my pay today!
My being broke did flee away!
Yet there are bills I have to pay!
But still, I got my pay today!

The rent is due; I cut a check.
Insurance, too, and, what the heck,
My student loans, pains in the neck,
And credit cards, lest credit wreck,

I paid them all, and what is more,
There is actually some left o'er!
But there's not much, so I am poor.
So there's more over which to pore.

But, dammit, I got paid today!
Despite the bills, I have to say
That there is happiness in pay--
I take my pleasure where I may.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The run-up to exams and to conference travel continues. Yesterday, I sent copies of my exams to the school's testing services so that, at the appropriate times, students who need separate accommodations can have them. For the rest, I am waiting a bit to print exams; I do want to make sure there is not so much in the way of advance notice of individual, specific questions that students can more or less cheat on the thing. And I suppose that means I need to have one more quiz in each class, just to give the students a last bit of practice on the things I expect from them next week--and that means I have more grading to do. Joy.

Preparation for conference travel is ongoing. Sherwood Cottage happens to have a nice little shuttlepod ready for launch--after it gets a bit of maintenance (it is time for the car to get an oil change). I probably ought to get a haircut, too. But the paper I mean to present at the International Congress on Medieval Studies is written and ready to go; I need to print it, but that will not take long, so I am not at all worried about it. I may need to whip up some kind of proposal for one or two of the professional societies in which I participate, but I do not anticipate that taking too much time or presenting too much trouble.

As I write, Ms. 8 is sitting next to me, sleeping her little baby sleep. That is to say that here eyes are closed and she is not quite screaming, but she is making some entertaining grunting sounds, as if she speaks in dream, and at odd moments, she acts as though startled. I imagine that she will need more direct attention before too long--and I am happy to offer it. If nothing else, my doing so now allows my lovely wife to get a bit of more or less uninterrupted sleep, and I think she needs it. Again, our persistent schedules work out in favor of a division of labor. If this will continue to work is not clear.

As I write also, this place where Sherwood Cottage sits seeks to live up to its description in song. I know that I refer often to the lyric, but I am not aware of many other things that actually discuss this place. I suppose I could invoke Steinbeck; a copy of Grapes of Wrath graces my bookshelves, certainly, but what the Joads endure hardly argues in favor of the place. Still, perhaps I ought to see about broadening my field of reference. It would not do for me to grow too formulaic, although there are certainly uses for formulae in writing. Patterns set up expectations, which can then be employed directly or exploited through deviation. And that greatly helps the writing.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Over this past weekend, my wife and I hosted my parents at Sherwood Cottage. It was good to get to see them, and it was particularly good to see them with Ms. 8. I am glad to know that they love her as they do, and I am glad to have gotten to renew some of the connection I have had with them.

Now, however, the weekend is done, and it is time to return to the working world. For me, this means a return to the front of the classroom for a week before exams--and that means, too, that I am doing some kind of exam prep with my students and that I will need to grade the papers they turned in just before the weekend began. (That I did not grade over the weekend may be excused, I think.) Some of the work will involve me sending copies of my exams elsewhere, since I have students who need such things done, and I do much for my students. Fortunately, I already have the exams drafted in full; they are ready to be distributed to students, although I am perhaps not as ready to grade them. (I am never really ready to grade. That part of the job is not unlike jumping into cold water--without the reinvigoration.)

The grading will take place on a bit of an...interesting schedule. Aside from the irregularity imposed by some students taking the exam at other times than those scheduled, I will have to negotiate it among my attendance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. I am having a proctor cover the Friday exam I am scheduled to give (and I have thanked the person in question repeatedly and profusely), and I believe grades for the term are going to be due at about the time I get back from my trip. It should be interesting to try to get everything done that will need to get done in the days I will be at home and the days I will be away as the term ends. I will, at least, be done with things for a while afterwards, as I am not teaching over the summer this year. (It remains odd, although I have done it before. But I will not be traveling this time, or not as much as I did last; there will be a conference trip, but only the one, and my paychecks are still going to come in as they ought.) I will be able to focus on my work on The Work and on attending to Ms. 8, both of which have decided attractions for me; it will be interesting to try my hand at being a house-husband for a while.

All I have to do is get through the next couple of weeks. Things ought to slow down a bit at that point (although there will be other people coming over and staying at Sherwood Cottage), and I ought to be able to get caught up on things at last. It is something for which I am quite eager.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


A band from Topeka sang in the 70s
Of commanding the lightning's hand
Of a storm rolling in that might be the end
It may not have been rain of which they spoke
Whether they knew it or not

Rolling clouds and driving winds
Hail and ice and thunder's parent
Are not always meteorological
They may not have uniformed workers
Wearing gold braid on sleeves and on shoulders
Tracking them and tracing them

Storms of rain and hail sweep across the plain
Driven by the song-noted winds
But they are as nothing to the storm that is coming
And the lightning's hand will strike where
A mightier bids it

Saturday, April 26, 2014


My wife and I are more or less naturally on different sleep schedules. I have repeatedly noted being a morning person--even if I do sleep in from time to time. My wife is a night owl. Early in our relationship, this caused some unpleasant friction; we had a fair bit of time to spend together, but she would start grumpy and I would get cranky. Over time, we have negotiated the difference, and it has worked out fairly well for us.

The difference has had benefits with Ms. 8, too. Because I am up in the morning, I am able to take care of a number of things that my wife had been doing so that she can take care of Ms. 8 later on. Because my wife is up in the evening, I can find my bed fairly early many nights, so I can get several hours of sleep without interruption. As it happens, there are only a few hours where my wife and I are both naturally or habitually out, so there are only a few hours during which caring for Ms. 8 requires particular effort. My wife and I both get almost enough sleep to be comfortable, and actually enough to be fully functional, and that has been helpful over these past months.

I am sure that there is some kind of metaphorical reading possible in there, something that conforms to somewhat traditional associations of masculinity and the sun, femininity and the moon, and the accord between them as key to the stability of the cosmos. It would not be the first time that the home has been read as the universe in miniature, of course, nor that geocentrism has governed the iteration of an idea. And to consider such a thing, I have to wonder how Ms. 8 fits into the celestial systems. If I am the sun, and my lovely wife the moon, what planet is Ms. 8? Is she Terra, slowly building from initial trauma to the ability to bear life? Is she Venus--a question I ask after having changed certain of her diapers? Is she Neptune in an extension of the pun on her name? Or, rather, is she some new world altogether?

Such questions are the kinds of things I contemplate at odd times, and, truly, most times are odd. It is for such reasons that life in the academy attracts me as it does; only in the storied and derided ivory tower are such musings not only accepted but encouraged. Despite my uncomfortable chair in the basement or the lobby level of the edifice (and why ivory, that tower?), I am attracted to my place within it. Thus I continue to seek a more permanent position in it than I have at present, hoping that I can find a better room than I now have and not have to move again.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Hurry, hurry, hurry!
Don't miss the sale!
Christmas is only eight months away!
Shop now and beat the rush!
Shop now and get the deals!
Shop now and we'll save you money!

You want to save money, right?
You want to save people, too?
You do know you really can't do both?
We can only cut prices by cutting labor costs,
And we can't cut what we pay at the top, right?
That'd be un-American.

And why would you want to save people?
If they are in trouble, they did it to themselves.
If they get saved, they will compete with you.
They will take some and so you will have less.
They will have a thing and so you will have to get a better thing.
Come buy! We have all the things!
Brightest and newest!
Show that you have it to spend by spending it!
Otherwise, nobody will love you.
You know we only love people for their toys;
The more, the more;
The better, the better;
And better is what costs most.
You get what you pay for,
And you pay for us to tell you to pay for us.

But don't miss the sale.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


I have enjoyed teaching this term, largely because I have gotten to teach in my area; I have gotten to teach Survey of British Literature I, which spans roughly 450 to 1785. I admit that I am not at my best across the whole thirteen-hundred year span, but I do pretty well, and I enjoy myself thoroughly. It helps that I have a good set of students, including one who was recently accepted into graduate school. (She will be concentrating in contemporary American literature, in which she means to focus more narrowly on African-American literature and cultural studies. It is outside my area, but for those of you who are up on such things, information about any reliably scholarly references or standard works would be welcome; I would love to pass them along.) Congenial materials and congenial students make things work a damned sight better than their lack.

As part of that teaching, I had the pleasure of covering materials by the inimitable Jonathan Swift, whose Modest Proposal is standard reading in high schools and colleges, and whose Gulliver's Travels is often given to children. Indeed, I worked with both (treating only the fourth part of the latter, given time constraints). In doing so, I necessarily treated the related ideas of cannibalism and anthropophagy--people-eating. The shock-value of A Modest Proposal comes, of course, from the assertion that eating year-old children is a good idea, both gustatory and economic, and in the fourth part of Gulliver's Travels, the eponymous narrator is only able to leave the Houyhnhnms by sailing a boat made of Yahoo--feral human--skins and caulked with Yahoo tallow. Both narrators, the one explicitly and the other tacitly through modeling actions, engage the idea that the consumption of people is a right and just thing--and that has interesting implications for postcolonial analysis of the works.

I am not a Swift scholar; my emphasis is on earlier works. But I do know that Swift is intimately engaged in colonialist practices perpetrated by England and the United Kingdom on Ireland, and that those colonialist practices were echoed--admittedly with some modifications--in the English colonial efforts in the Americas and elsewhere. One of the ways that those later colonists justified their destruction of the people they encountered and the ways of life those people practiced was the assertion that those people were cannibalistic; eliminating them eliminated a visceral threat, as, aside from the vore community, being eaten, reduced to fodder only, is a primal human fear and an abnegation of sentient identity. In Swift's works, though, the colonist presence, the center from which Otherness and therefore fitness for subjugation or abjection is typically determined in colonialist discourse, is the perpetrator or proponent of anthropophagy. The usual trope is inverted utterly--and the inversion reads as authentic, representative of the observable world. What this implies, I leave to others to discuss for themselves (I have already gone over the idea with my students), but I cannot help but think that the relevance of the inversion is part of what should serve to keep Swift among those works studied as standard. (What does is that "we've always done it that way," which is a crappy reason.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I do make a fair bit of reference to my daughter in this webspace, calling her Ms. 8 in a bit of a pun on her name. (I have also been asked about who Ms. 8 is.) I think it a nice way to do so without oversaturating my writing with her name--or oversaturating the internet with it. (I have expressed reservations about doing so before.) And as I have looked at other references people make to their children online, I am glad I have taken the tactic I have taken. The Foglios of Girl Genius refer to theirs as Experiments 1 and 2, for example, which seems like the kind of thing that will come to bite them in the ass later. (I can see the adolescent angst now: "So I'm just an experiment to you?" And I can see it growing much darker entirely too quickly.) The Reluctant Father denies the child the dignity of capitalization--but offers it to the dog. Neither strikes me as being particularly appropriate or helpful.

Two examples out of the plethora of child-references on the internet do not a representative sample make, I know, and I cannot say that they are in fact representative of trends; I would have to do a lot more to look into (heavily gendered as feminine) parent-blogging to be able to do so, and I do not know that I want to do such a thing. But they do serve as counterpoints, even if they are not representative of overall tendencies. If a pseudonym is used, it needs to be one that is actually respectful of the little person made pseudonymous, and "Ms. 8" at least reflects the name of the person concerned. (Indeed, I take the view that pseudonyms should reflect the actual names of the pseudonymous somehow, even when they are used to replace the names of protected populations in research studies. If any of you have information about the practice, I would appreciate it.) And if the real name of the person is deployed, it needs to be handed well--not in a way that suggests disdain. (Unless that really is the point of reference. But I am not sure that such a thing is good for the kid involved--at least not until the kid is a fair bit older.)

And, while I am on the topic, a bit about Ms. 8's progress. She is growing nicely, seemingly larger by the hour. Her appetite is healthy; she takes around four ounces every three to four hours (including one in the midst of my writing this piece), which may well be a total volume greater than that of her body. The other ends of her digestion seem to be working as expected, too, something to which I can most certainly attest. Too, her lungs, about which we were concerned due to her early arrival a little more than two months ago, are in fine form--something else to which I can certainly attest. Whether or not pictures of her will pop up in this space, I do not know. I think it unlikely, given how little I use the things generally...those who need to see her will. (And probably many who do not; I am a proud poppa, somehow.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It was at around this time last year that I found out I was going to be out of work for the summer and began the frantic hunt for a job. As it happened, I was recalled to the school from which I had been laid off improperly, and I think that the union of which I was part forced the institution not only to bring me back (at least for a term) but to offer me a sabbatical for which I had applied not long before getting word that I would be laid off. But the experience was still markedly unpleasant for me, not the kind of thing that I care to repeat, and in the time since, I have continued to scramble to secure what I hope will be continuing employment--still without success. (I do have a comfortable spot at present, with better benefits than many contingent faculty can claim and the assurance that I have another year of paychecks upcoming, and I do not complain, but I do not forget that I can be not renewed.)

I have been trying to work to view things in a better light, to be more optimistic. (This is largely on behalf of Ms. 8, who does not need a depressed daddy.) I am not always successful, as those who know me know, and I imagine I have given evidence of that from time to time in this webspace. But I was considering the issue as I wrote in my journal last night; I sometimes look back over the older volumes of my journals to see what record I have left of who I was and what I was thinking in years past. Knowing that I have not always been good about keeping up with the journal-writing is hardly flattering, and as I looked back over the volumes I have penned, I confronted that knowledge again.

I also saw that, as I had worked to address my then-pending joblessness, I had stumbled into unexpected benefit. If nothing else, the experience has pushed me to do a lot more writing. Work in this webspace got much more frequent and much more extensive beginning at the end of April 2013. My journal-writing has been more regular and fuller, as well. Too, I have been much more productive as a scholar, churning out paper after paper for conferences and book chapters, and more such things are on the way. Further, I have gotten a great deal of practice in letter-writing, having sent out at least two hundred cover letters for jobs within academe and outside of it in the solid year I have been really on the job market. (While some of the text has been copied over from letter to letter, much of it has not, and as I have done more things, even the copied stuff has needed adjustment.) Each has helped my writing to get better, and since my livelihood depends largely upon my ability as a writer, any improvement my writing is an improvement in my ability to support Ms. 8 and my Mrs. I regard this as a good thing, indeed.

Monday, April 21, 2014


The cats eat noisily
Slurping at the special wet food
I put in their bowls
Moving them around so that they scrape upon the floor

I thought cats were supposed to be quiet

They are not the only strange sources of noise
Nobody in the cities talks about how loud the countryside is
And how many sounds come through thin windows at four in the morning
When somebody is lying
Awake and alone
Both wanting to sleep and wanting not to

True quiet is not a lack of noise
It is a lack of caring about the noise
It is not having no sound
But the right sound
Ableist as that may sound

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Today is Easter, for those who celebrate such things, the commemoration of Christ's victory over death and sin (as though it were actually any contest...) and the promise of redemption extended to all who would accept it. It is also 4/20, and I am certain that some of the people I know and have known are going to take the opportunity to intoxicate themselves with smoke, perhaps as a preface to the kind of holiday late lunch / early dinner that typifies holidays with my family and many families like mine. (It makes sense; there will be a large spread, and wasting food is a bad thing.)

That I would refer to the day in such a way may seem disrespectful. It may well be disrespectful. I have been told such things before, that there are things which should not be said, that there are traditions that should not be abrogated. And I have spoken and written in a way I think forcefully in defense of such things from time to time. But I have also spoken against other such things and written against them, for I see no reason why I should not say what it is that I see and write what I perceive. I know no reason why I ought not to be the one who says the emperor is, in fact, naked in the streets, and that his scepter inspires little awe but much "aww."

Perhaps it is because I am a "lazy Millennial" that I say such things. Perhaps it is because I am in a position of privilege as a heterosexual white man of the US middle class with a classically English name and self-identified Protestantism. Perhaps it is because I am insulated from reprisal by writing in front of a screen and being read in front of another. Perhaps it is simply that I am and always have been a smartass whose mouth and writing have always raced ahead of what little good sense he has to leap to some strange thing that, while it may be accurate, is in poor taste. And perhaps some people need to take the sticks out of their asses. (There are things that feel much better coming in through the backdoor.)

That there is perhaps promise in this day, I accept. But there is promise in every day, and those who operate within a Christian worldview surely must accept that the hope of resurrection is not on one day only but on all days. Celebrate, yes, and commemorate, but do not neglect to remember that the day is a day for all people, not only those who profess to follow the Nazarene (and who usually do a damned poor job of remembering what the man actually said to do: help those who ask for it without expecting anything in return). After all, Jesus did not turn people away, even if they were not of the "right" faith, and nor yet did Christ expect that other celebrations cease in His presence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Several things today, relatively briefly:

Ms. 8 is two months old today and is grunting contentedly as I write. It is a good sound to hear.

I have been accepted to present at the 2014 South Central Modern Language Association Conference in Austin, Texas. It is not my favorite city, certainly, but I do so enjoy the conference, and it will be good to reconnect with people.

In a report from work, another example of a cliché that needs eliminating was discussed. One of my office-mates and I are both new fathers, although he has a few months' experience more than I do. Somehow (I do not recall how), the phrase "sleeping like a baby" came up, and both of us moved to reject it. For we know from experience, as many others will who nonetheless use the phrase, that babies may sleep much, but they do not sleep so soundly as the phrase is used to imply. They wake at odd hours for odd reasons, typically screaming their displeasure into the darkness at 1:37 in the morning and again at 1:52 or some such strange thing. They sleep in daylight in fitful spurts, crying out at odd intervals that seem almost designed to keep any work from getting done. Their sleep sucks the sleep out of those around them; it is a parasitic thing that drains the rest from people to feed their own hunger and nurture their growth. And it works a horrible magic upon us who parent them; we love them, seemingly all the more for what they do to us. I can only conclude that parents are masochists all.

The sleep that babies sleep is not the deep and restful sleep that is so devoutly sought by many. It is not the refreshing, rejuvenating sleep that is celebrated. It is instead something like an intermittent coma. To say with smiling that someone sleeps like a baby strikes me now, as I am a father, as disingenuous--and my office-mate agreed. Perhaps, as we proposed in our discussions, we ought to label a deep and happy sleep as something other than a baby's--a teenager's, perhaps, or a college freshman's in English classes. Now, those are some people who sleep deeply and without waking on their own...

Friday, April 18, 2014


For those with backgrounds similar to mine, today is Good Friday, the commemoration of the Crucifixion through which Christian doctrine holds that humanity was offered its chance at redemption from sin. (Chance, of course, because much Christian doctrine also holds that salvation has to be sought by the individual. Christ made it available, but the individual has to accept it and the terms upon which it is offered. It is an end-user licensing agreement many do not read, or read as they ought. But I have noted such things, and my hypocrisy, before.) There is a part of me that wants to take this day as one of sober, somber reflection. Another part of me, though, realizes that there is work to do--there is always work to do--and knows that I have to go and do it.

I think I am hardly unique in it. Certainly, I will not be the only person heading to work today. I do not claim any special insight, as though my feeling of the lack of contemplation is greater than that of others. There is no way to compare such things, really, and it is both foolish and insulting to try. But I may be in a position to comment on the lack of contemplation itself, given that I work in a field that depends upon it and am (at least in theory) trained extensively in it. I rely upon it for my work, time spent sitting and thinking of things, usually trying to get those thoughts onto some kind of page in some kind of form so that their ephemeral, transitory nature does not allow a good idea to flit away unmarked. Even if the writing binds the idea in fetters of ink or pixel and limits it thereby,* if it escapes absent some kind of enfleshing, it vanishes and the memory of having had it pains.

Given that I do devote much time to contemplation, only after which I can be productive as I approach The Work, I am aware as viscerally as anyone can be of the effects of its lack. And as I look about me and see what it is that people do when they are forced to always be in a rush to get things done (as here), I see that the effects fall upon them, as well, even if they are not always aware of it. (That they are not becomes clear as soon as they are asked after it. Too many are so habituated to the lack that they do not notice it; contemplation is a thing unknown to them anymore, and many of them reject it from fear or discomfort. But as physical exercise makes the muscles sore to good effect, the mental exercise of contemplation produces discomfort that provides benefit in the resolution far more than in the avoidance.) Many problems would be solved if people would stop and think before rushing into action; others would never be given the chance to occur. And while it is true that there are times that admit of no delay, they need not be so frequent as they are allowed to be.

It seems that one of the things that less crassly commercial holidays permit is a space for reflection and contemplation. They potentially offer time to stop and think, even as they disturb or interrupt the normal social flow for other reasons, and we need more of that time. I need more of it to work on The Work. The lot of us need it to try to correct the errors we too often make.

*I wonder if this metaphor has been explored.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There has been much talk about this being Palindrome Week, in which the dates of the days read the same backwards as forwards. The only problem with the idea, of course, is that it depends on a specific date format, and not all people record the days in the same way. (I am restricting this discussion to the CE calendar*, of course; those who count their years as Anno Mundi or Anno Hegirae, or in the Saka Calendar, or others, will have completely different understandings.) It relies on the month/day/year notation style, the reduction of all items to Arabic numerals, and ignoring punctuation. The assumed common practices are not in place, even within the same year-numbering.

For example, the order of notation is flexible. Not all people would write today's date as 4/17/14. I do not in this webspace, counting the days as a single number listing the year, then the month, then the day--a notation style I borrow from now-retired professor Dave Sebald of the University of Texas at San Antonio and find quite useful in keeping digital records. More common is the dating style I recommend to my students in their writing and citation, the international norm of listing day, then month, then year; such notation calls today 17 April 2014 or, if numbers are to be used, 17/4/14. Neither the international style nor my blog-dating is palindromic; 20140417 and 71404102 are not the same, nor are 17/4/14 and 41/4/71. Indeed, both refer to a date that cannot exist in the current CE calendar; the year, we may reach, but there are no forty-one day months and there is no forty-first month.

Again, assuming that the dates of the days are palindromic requires that all parts of the days be reduced to Arabic numerals--and that the numbers be somewhat truncated. Above, I write the date as 17 April 2014; its reverse, 4102 lirpA 71, makes blasted little sense, so keeping the wording in place prevents a palindrome from being possible. Too, calling today 4/17/14 neglects the century and the millennium, and while they change rarely enough that setting them aside can be perhaps forgiven, I am one who remembers the panic about the first digit of the four-digit number of the year changing. (I am still amused by it, in fact.) Fifteen years is not so long a time to have forgotten the way people acted in their folly, particularly when seeking to avoid further folly.

Too, and perhaps it is only because I teach English that this attracts my attention, reading the date as a palindrome means that the non-numerical marks in the notation--the punctuation--must be ignored. Going back to the assumed-to-work notation, 4/17/14, and reversing it with all the marks that must be made in place produces 41/71/4. The divisions of the numbers change, and forty-one does not equal four, nor seventy-one seventeen, nor yet four fourteen. Even at a simple, taken-at-a-glance level, the palindrome idea does not really work out. Added to the more substantive faulty assumptions, it suggests that those who trumpet the "palindromic" dates in place may do well to look a bit more closely at what it is that they do and say--as we all ought.

*CE, or Common Era, does line up with the Dionysian and Gregorian systems of year-numbering, and so it retains overtones of a long-held Christian world-view with which many will take issue. The problem with the BC/AD notation, however, is that it ostensibly takes the Nativity as Year 1, but the Nativity took place in a different year. BC/AD is inaccurate by its own logic, but the numbers have been in use for so long that it would be impractical to go back and "correct" them all--hence a justification for retaining the number and changing the label. Admittedly, though, there are still colonialist attitudes embedded in the thing...It seems there is more that needs fixing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


It seems to me that land held in the public trust obliges the holder, usually some government, to stand in the place of the landowner and exercise the rights appertaining thereto. This includes regulating who and what may be on the land and the uses to which it may be put. And there is the additional burden upon the trust-holder that the trust must be managed for the common good of the public as a whole, not privileging any one member of that public above any other nor permitting to any one member use of the public land without ensuring that such use does not conduce to the detriment of the public as a whole. Too, the use of public land without compensation to the public, usually through the trust-holder, seems to me to be theft of some sort; if benefit is derived from the public, benefit should be returned to the public.

Ensuring these things does not seem to me to be overreach by the trust-holder. It seems instead to be just and appropriate--as it would on the private, local scale. If I hire a group to manage my property (assuming in some distant future I have any, or in some alternate world where I wear red instead of blue and therefore invested wisely), I want that group to be sure that my property is used in a way that benefits me, and if another person wishes to use that property, I expect to be compensated for the use of what is mine. Returning to the broader, public scale, if land is held in public trust, I have a stake in that land, as do my wife, my daughter, and the many members of my family and of many other people's families. We own it. We are therefore entitled to compensation from those who seek to use it to their own direct benefit, and we are entitled to protection from those who will seek to steal from us by refusing us such compensation.

It seems to me also that it is disingenuous to privilege things selectively. For instance, if I draft a document consisting of several articles but have to later impose some amendments to that document, it will not make sense for me to neglect the articles in favor of the amendments except only where the amendments directly address the articles. If the amendment speaks of something entirely different, then it seems to me that the article remains in force. If the article prescribes a penalty for something that acting in a way supposedly implied by the amendment causes, it seems to me that the penalty must still be applied. And if I have hired people to ensure that the document is enforced, I want to see that enforcement occur.

I expect to benefit from certain systems, and I do benefit from many of those systems. I am therefore obliged to support those systems. Such support can certainly include changes to them to make them more just and equitable, and I do work to those ends. But I do not set aside the systems in their entireties, and I do not selectively reject them. I cannot and still demand the benefits of them--not with a clear conscience. And I already have enough guilt to carry without adding to it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Happy Tax Day, my US friends! I hope you have done what you have needed to do and that you have actually overpaid, so that you get something back.

Work and the search for more work continue as they ever do. After my adventures yesterday, I have a stack of quizzes to grade, as well as the discussion posts I have my literature students do. Normally, I would have taken care of such things yesterday, but I was otherwise engaged at that time--as I am not now (which I appreciate). So when I go back to the office as scheduled, I will have a fair bit of paperwork that requires attention. It will not be difficult, but it will be a bit tedious--as will the other grading that will crop up tomorrow; my writing students have drafts due for my critique. They join some freelance proofreading work that I have been doing and with which I have been growing more proficient through practice. I could be doing worse in that regard, I think.

Even so, I do look for more permanent employment. The position I have now is not a bad one; I am treated decently for the demands on my time and energy (although I would not argue with a raise). But it is temporary, even if I have been renewed for another year (which, again, I appreciate), and Ms. 8 and her mother deserve a bit more stability than such a position allows. Too, if I am going to make a place a home again, as was the case with Bedfordside Garden, it needs to be a place in which I can be relatively certain I will reside over the long term. Pleasant as Sherwood Cottage is, and much as I continue to work to improve upon it, it is not such a place--and it cannot be as long as I cannot be certain that I will be here for another year. My wife and I will make ourselves comfortable here, since it seems certain we will be here through 2015, but for it to be a home, it needs to be a place where I can remain, and that will demand a continuing line position or something similar.

As part of that, I continue to do my research, my work on The Work. I do have a couple of appointments to keep today, but after they are done, I intend to settle in and work on the next paper that is mine to do, a piece for the 2014 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I need to get it done so that I can churn out a far more substantial piece that I have to submit by the beginning of June, and I need to do that so I can write a piece for the Evil Incarnate conference at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, by mid-July. And I probably ought to see about finally carrying out the revision of my dissertation for publication as a book as well as compiling and extending some of my conference papers into either journal articles or a collection of essays for publication as another book. And I have creative projects that have been beckoning to me for some time; it would be good to get them done at long last.

So I ought to get back to work, oughtn't I?

Monday, April 14, 2014


Today, I report back for jury duty, a prospect which thrills me. But I have discussed that before, and in some detail, so I feel no need to recapitulate it. There are other things going on, even while I will have to be in a courtroom instead of a classroom.

I have occasionally made reference in my posts and in billing my posts to the title I have put on this webspace: Ravings with a Dash of Lucid Prose. Some explanation is doubtlessly in order. Part may be found in the title's cadence, which situates the work outside prevailing literary commonplaces but in dialogue with them. If there is a "standard" line of English verse, it is iambic pentameter, familiar from high school discussions of Shakespeare and used by all three of the English Literary Trinity--the Bard, the Well of English Undefiled, and Milton*--in their major poetical works. Spenser and Donne deploy it, as well, as do many others whose works are considered hallowed members of the English literary canon--however unstable that designation is anymore. Accordingly, the iambic pentameter line can be taken as shorthand for "poetry" or "literature," both of which this webspace discusses on occasion. (Frequent occasion.) Deployment of such a line links to the "higher" forms and constructions of the language. My title is not such a line, but its inverse: trochaic pentameter. That is to say that it is a unit of five repeated iterations of a pattern of stressed syllables in which each iteration is a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. (The iamb is unstressed followed by stressed.) As such, my title evokes the high literary by being a regular pentameter line whose regularity is disyllabic, but it does not claim to stand among the high literary, because those two syllables follow a different pattern than the "high" line (really the only other sustainable disyllabic pattern in modern English). It is a fitting remark for a set of commentaries that touch on such matters that it is similar to but markedly not the same as those matters.

Another (and probably larger) part of the explanation of the title may be found in the self-deprecating humor it suggests. Lucid prose will constitute only a small part of the material herein, with the rest of it being rambling, meandering writing that may or may not have anything of value in it, but which will take a fair bit of work to untangle in any event. The suggestion that there is little worth reading in the text is not something that argues well on behalf of the narrator (which is distinct from the author). That argument is juxtaposed with the necessary egotism of posting, raggedly moving to daily, about random thoughts and the things that come up in daily life for the author; clearly I think I have something worth reading, or I'd not be posting it for public view. In such juxtaposition is humor--or at least something that can become funny. Whether it is or not, I do not really know. But it is the kind of thing for which the writing in this webspace often strives.

*There is doubtlessly something in the fact that Shakespeare and Chaucer both have standard, commonly available appellations, and Milton does not. It may be worth looking into.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Some things I have noticed:

In a restroom stall, I saw a scrawling where someone had identified a smear of shit. Another had commented that it was a crappy situation. I did not know if it was fair to dump on somebody in such a way. Really, should it have been pooh-poohed as it was?

People have strange ideas about where things come from. Where they get them, I do not know. Why they cling to them in the face of better knowledge, I also do not know.

Those with pollen allergies have more of a right to complain about sex they are not getting. Except that they are getting it, aren't they?

Whenever you smell something, it is because small pieces of it are going up your nose. Breathe deeply.

In some sense, teachers are paid to provide a service. In a related sense, students get presented as the customers of those teachers. (It is not an accurate presentation.) Is it not strange, then, that almost every student has asked, and many continue to ask, to be let out of class early?

Democracy is a bad idea. It relies on the notion that the people are capable. When in human history has this been the case?

I feel pity for those who do not feel about anything the way I feel about The Work. Life annoys even with an overriding passion on which to focus it. Without such a thing, how do people endure?

Each of us has deserved to be smacked. Some of us will deserve it again.

Your results may vary.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I work to post daily in this webspace because I want to stay in practice in writing and because I do want people to read what I write. Sometimes, as has been evident, I strive to do so in snippets of verse. I rather think that they do not often go over well, judging by the page view figures to which I have access. I have to think that it is because my poetry tends to be bad, as most poetry is. From that, I think that some assertion of what makes for a good poem--and thus the absence of which makes for a bad one--is in order. It will be subject to contestation, of course; any such assertion is. But argument and discussion do not threaten an earnest scholar such as I attempt to be.

Not long ago, I made the assertion in this webspace that poetry is writing that organizes meaning by the line. A good poem will necessarily be a poem, so it will necessarily organize its meaning by the line. It will need to do more, though, to be good. Presumably, it will need to make reference to something beyond itself, some invocation of outside materials and sociocultural constructions, as it attempts to make meaning. Usually, this will come in the form of simile, metaphor, analogy, allusion, or something similar. Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, regarded as a fine little poem, does so prominently in the equation of love and stars for ships to sail by (as well as others less obvious and less fit for mixed company). Milton's Paradise Lost, one of the masterworks of English literature, embeds reference after reference after reference in a showy display of the poet's erudition. Completing the canonical trinity, Chaucer (who hath a blog) relies on a misunderstanding of Scripture in his Miller's Tale (per an old professor of mine)--which requires that the audience have an appropriate understanding, that they understand the reference to the Flood.

More, a good poem will perhaps respond to its moment, but it will also respond to something other than merely its moment. This is, perhaps, where much of my own verse falters, being strictly occasional and not speaking much to concerns beyond "expressing me" at the moment of expression. The examples above--Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--all do so, speaking to the persistence of love, foundational Christian cosmology, and human foible. Other examples do, as well. John Donne's "The Flea," perhaps my favorite poem, in addition to ranging far afield in pulling in its references speaks to the lustful longing common to the young, and to young men particularly. Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry," another favorite, bespeaks either the dangers of too much study or the essentially liberating nature of it, a transcendence frequently sought.

Perhaps also that ambiguity, that ability to sustain multiple interpretations simultaneously, marks good poetry. Going into how meanings can be perceived in the texts will no doubt bore many; those who are interested in it can find resources to learn more about how to do so. (Why else literature classes?) Even so, all of the examples listed,* as well as others too numerous to reference in this venue at this time, bear multiple interpretations, support multiple understandings, each of which bespeaks some response to something other than the mere moment of composition. And I think that much of my work, as well as that of many others fails to do so. But I am working to improve.

*I am aware of the restrictions on my examples. Make of them what you will.

Friday, April 11, 2014


I am minded of an old saw about raining and pouring.

As I think is fairly common for those in my position--i.e., not having enough money--I have taken on some freelance work, having submitted my name to the university's writing center as a conversation partner and proofreader and having signed on with a writing group. I had long since put my name in with a tutoring agency, which worked better in The City than away from it. For a while, I only got a trickle from such things--a welcome trickle, to be sure, but not enough to pay any bills. That, however, has seemed to change recently. I have had several large orders come in from the writing group, for which I was glad (because they came with larger payouts, so that I could use the money to pay a bill this time), and I have at least two proofreading jobs on my desk, one of which is due Sunday afternoon. The other is something of a rush job, although its due date is not confirmed. All is in addition to my usual work in the classroom and on The Work, and it will be somewhat complicated by my having been summoned back to jury duty.

How I will handle all of the fun and excitement that is coming my way is unclear to me. It is quite a bit to do, and, despite how bad I am at it, I am a family man, and so I have obligations within the home as well as outside the home. Hardly unique, I know, and I perhaps ought not to grouse about it so much; it is the traditional role, and I should be happy to conform to sets of standards from which I benefit due to societally conferred privilege. I am a heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Protestant man of the middle class, exactly the kind of person whose assumptions are supposed to be taken as (and determined by) the social systems that have been set up and that have grown up in the US. I am supposed to feel the privilege of being called to serve as a juror and to have so much work to do as I have, and I should never not be working. That is the American way, as I recall, the embodiment of the much-touted Protestant work ethic that in the day of the old folks who complain bitterly about the young (Do I still count as young?) was "what made this country great." In that system, a man should work until he cannot work anymore, and then he should be ashamed that he did not get more work done--but he dare not give voice to his shame, because expressing emotion is a weakness, excusable only in rare and certain circumstances that do not apply at the moment.

If I return for a moment to the metaphor implied, that work is like water and currently falls abundantly from the heavens, I have to wonder how many of us stare blankly upwards, mouths hanging open absently, the water filling our lungs as we numbly wait for...something.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I have to wonder if my daughter is already trying to mess with my head.

My wife works on Thursdays, and I do not, so we are working out an arrangement in which I take care of Ms. 8 Wednesday nights. The idea is that my doing so will allow the Mrs. to sleep, and since I am not expected to be at work on Thursday, I can catch up during the day on any sleep I miss at night. So far, it is not going well, though. It seems like every time I lay down, at about the moment I get horizontal and under the covers, Ms. 8 sings out as though she needs something. When I go to check her, though, she is usually clean and dry, and she is not hungry (or she will not eat). She quiets down as soon as I get to her, and I check her, and she does not appear to need anything from me, and soon goes back to sleep. But when I put her down so that I can try to get back to sleep, she stirs, and at about the time I get horizontal or under the covers, she is crying again.

My reactions leave something to be desired. I have never been good at hiding how I feel, and I find myself frustrated by Ms. 8. And then I feel the fool for being thwarted by an infant and an ass or worse for reacting to my daughter in such a way. It does not help matters, for as I continue to feel worse, I continue to show that feeling, and Ms. 8 is not stupid; she picks up on it in short order and reacts to it as a baby inevitably will. So nobody ends up getting much sleep between Wednesday and Thursday at Sherwood Cottage, and it is my fault; my efforts to offer my wife more sleep end up allowing her less. It is worse than if I had done nothing. I can hardly be pleased at the result.

Some part of me wonders if something like this informs the "traditional" divide in childcare. It wonders if my experience is typical. It wonders also if there is any point to my continuing to try to make the arrangement work, or if I ought to give it up as a lost cause. But another part of me wonders about the effects that that would have on Ms. 8--because I am supposed to be concerned primarily with her rather than with me. That is what is prescribed, is it not? And I do love her; I want to have happen what is best for her, what she needs, and I flatter myself that she needs her father heavily involved. I flatter myself that her mother needs her husband heavily involved. Still, I find myself forced to ask if I ought instead to step back and focus more on providing than on caretaking; I seem to be better at the former than the latter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I hate the snooze button

It is a deceptive little thing
A press of a small thing that permits a bit more sleep
Except that that sleep is not so restful
Being in a short dose
Of which some is taken getting back to sleep
Or of which most is spent staring at the clock
Waiting for the alarm to come again

It makes a little thing
Of wasting time
Staying abed while awake
Or only partly asleep
(If any of us can be said to actually be awake
Tending to idleness and indolence
When there is work to be done

It allows for too much laziness
Too much laxity in discipline
Of which there is not enough
And I do not exempt myself from it
Simply look at what I write and it will be obvious

If we are going to go to the trouble
Of waking with alarms
Because we must
Because the natural rhythms and cycles
Do not suffice for what we have made for ourselves
Then we might as well get on with it
Accept the alarm when it first rings
And rise to be about our days
If we are not going to do so
If we are going to take the easy way out
Then it makes no sense to set the alarm

It is simply a way to pretend we have rigor
Without actually needing to have it
One way of the too many

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


The last time I wrote on an April 8 was in 2011, and I discussed explication, scansion, and limericks. To mark the occasion, more limericks:

My uncle, the late Denny Hardy,
Most certainly knew how to party.
He'd get up the skirt,
Into pants, and down shirt
Of women both demure and tarty.

My brother, whom I'll call DJ,
Is known for knowing how to play.
His seven positions
And easy transitions
Have often taken breath away.

The professing life is a test
For those who respond to young breasts
That jiggle and bounce
As their owners flounce.
My response may not be best.

You know, I think there's a trick
To writing a good limerick.
A good sense of rhyme
And a good sense of time
Help, but the damned syllable count comes off as kind of a dick.

Monday, April 7, 2014


My wife and I paid a visit to a friend of ours, Ms. 8 in tow. It was a good visit, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly; little Ms. 8 was the star of the show. Even better, on the way back from the visit, my wife and I had a bit of time to talk quietly, as we were alone and Ms. 8 was asleep; we discussed what it was that we had seen in one another beginning nearly nine years ago, now, that led us to fall in love and end up as Mr.--now Dr.--and Mrs. And I, at least, found myself contemplating what my life would be like had I not fallen for and pursued her as I did, all else being equal. (I figure that the choices I made before I got to know her would have been the same.)

I cannot help but think that I would be achingly, groaningly alone--because I was before I met her. I went from home to school to work to home, rarely going anywhere else unless to get groceries of buy another book. I did not go out and meet people, as a rule; I largely held myself aloof from them (and still tend to do so, actually). I would have probably continued to do so, cursing myself for my loneliness all the way and doing little or nothing to change things. I would almost certainly not have gone to The City, and I was enriched by my doing so (although I look back and realize that I did not do nearly so much there as I ought to have done--typically) I would probably not have been able to do my dissertation, or to have done it as I did. Maybe I would have the job I currently have, and it would probably be better financially (my pay would be pretty good for a family of one), but it would be at the cost of being alone.

It is not a happy line of thought. It is one that put me in mind of something I wrote in this webspace some months ago in which I make reference to a captain and a lieutenant, junior grade, who are the same man in different realities. I still have to wonder if I am wearing the blue against someone else's more accomplished red, but I can glimpse in some other creation one lesser yet--for if I am a junior officer, I at least hold an office, and I can see a self not myself that is not so fortunate. I can see another me that did not move on, who is still locked in where I was, and who has passed from that place into one much darker and more despairing. (I have written of having had disturbing thoughts.) Much as I may gnaw on the bones of what might have been had I done, I am at least not wholly futile. I have at least some recognition and expertise, some place in which I cannot be replaced--and I owe it to my wife.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


I am pleased to get to teach literature; it is where my training is, and much of my love. When I do, I run into the need to teach the three great forms: poetry, prose, and drama. When I do so, I inevitably field the question of what differentiates the three. It has taken me a while to find an answer that makes some kind of sense. It probably is not a great one, but it is one that works as an at-least introductory measure, something to get my students started on their literary study (which the students this semester have been doing well). Simply put, it is this: poetry organizes meaning by the line, prose by the sentence, and drama by the part in the performance.

Poetry works in lines. This will be obvious to any who have ever looked at or heard a "poet voice" recitation of one. Some poems do work in sentences, as well; Milton's "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont" comes to mind. Many work in stanzas, in groups of lines. But all will develop individual units of meaning in the individual line; it is at the level of the line that interpretation of a poem must begin. It is from the construction of the lines that poetic form is determined, whether the stringent demands of sonnets such as Milton's or the alliterative half-line Sievers types that typify Anglo-Saxon poetry or the rambling and erratic free verse that appears in much of my own verse and of my contemporaries'. (I sound remarkably arrogant, don't I?)

Prose works in sentences. This is something drilled into people nearly as soon as they begin formal schooling. We are expected to write in complete sentences in the main, told "a complete sentence is a complete thought." It is overly elementary to take past the fourth or fifth grade (although it persists among many who ought to be far past it), as there are complete thoughts that do not need "a complete sentence," and there are some that need several sentences to express in full. But orienting meaning primarily to the individual sentence remains the typifying feature of prose. There is just as much to work with in prose as in poetry, then, although the poem tends to be easier to find things to pick at than the prose. If nothing else, it tends to be shorter.

Drama works in the performed part. The chief distinction is the method of delivery; poetry and prose are determined and interactive between reader and text. Drama is interactive among reader, text, and audience; the addition of the third quantity (or the partial separation of audience from reader, for the reader remains an audience of the dramatic text) alters the construction of meaning and so alters the meaning itself. And it is in the interactions of the characters whose dialogue and actions are presented in the text that the drama organizes its meaning, whether that dialogue is in prose or verse (editions of Shakespeare, the playwright superlative, tend to show both) and whether the stage directions are explicit or implicit.

I admit that the definitions and explanations are clunky and provisional. They cannot help but be; they derive from what I have observed, and there are limits upon what I have seen and heard. Too, working from observation always admits of outliers and errors; there are things that trend away from center. The definitions and explanations are also meant to be unfinished; leaving them in such a state invites consideration and refinement by those I teach. As they work upon what I give them, they change it, and in expending the effort to change it, they make it their own. They learn it more than if I simply handed them refined things that I do not really have and would have to synthesize (and we know from food the perils therein). And that makes for better teaching.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


I had the great good pleasure of teaching Donne in my literature class yesterday, focusing on "The Flea" and a couple of the Holy Sonnets. Despite that I am a medievalist by inclination and training, Donne is perhaps my favorite poet. Something about his far-ranging conceits speaks to me, the multiple layers of meaning that all support a single end (lascivious as often as not) bespeaking a command of language and of reference that I envy and hope to be able to emulate in some small way. Too, the kinds of paradoxes he almost backhandedly throws out for consideration offer, partly through their balance and partly through how jarring they are, ways to open the mind to yet deeper understandings of the physical and metaphysical world.

I am fortunate in the makeup of the literature class. Most still in it are English majors or minors, or education majors who hope to teach English; they have a stake in the material. The few others have been open to learning the jokes that are contained in the writing and to appreciating the intricacies of meaning that grow up from the words, their arrangement, and, sometimes, from their situation on the page. (After my dissertation, I have paid more attention to such things. My students get the opportunity to do so, too, as a result. Research drives teaching.) As such, I am not having to fight against the intransigence of students dedicated to not reading, particularly not reading "old stuff," as I know many of my coworkers and colleagues are. And that frees me to revel in the joys of the writing.

Some might comment that the fight some students conduct against literature classes is appropriate. Their reasons have been repeatedly stated--and loudly. I am aware that the study of literature is an extravagance, something that has been restricted in human history to idle moments of the high and mighty rather than an obligation incumbent upon a large chunk of the young adult population. I am also aware that it serves as a vehicle for the transmission of cultural ideas and standards (which is the root cause of having standard reading lists in middle and high school, and to a lesser extent the university). And I am aware that college itself is something that has traditionally been a restricted activity, even if it is now seen as obligatory (although not so much as it used to be, nor so helpful). Perhaps it follows that amid a culturally elite activity there ought to be some training in the markers of the culturally elite.

Perhaps also it ought to be a point of pride that the young adults who attend colleges and universities are obliged to take courses away from their majors (whatever the major, and whatever the course). Perhaps we ought to look upon it as a marker of the great good fortune enjoyed by those who go to college that they have the opportunity to study outside their chosen fields because it means that they are doing well enough that they can take the time to do so. Engineers can take the time to read outside their field because they are doing and have done well enough to be able to take the time to do so. In addition to the many other reasons education in the academic humanities is valuable (and there are many), that it is a marker of how well off college students are and can be is worth considering.

*Those who will condemn me for invoking the metaphysical may stop reading now. They will have decided that I am in error, but the error is one of first principles, of postulates. Some, including the Good Doctor--in "Belief"--have pointed out that such things are underlying assumptions from which systems of reasoning arise. They exist outside argumentation--which is why participants in the "debate" cannot convince one another.

Friday, April 4, 2014


As I was writing in my journal last night, the thought occurred to me that in the very act of doing so, I achieved some victory. It is, admittedly, not a great one; all I did was write a few pages in the current slim volume I use to that end. But it marks the reinforcement of a discipline I have imposed upon myself. I sometimes falter in upholding it, certainly, and I work to compensate for those times I do neglect my evening writing. (I imagine my journal has something of a staggering quality therefore--and I mean staggering in the sense of a drunkard's walk rather than in the sense of so good it causes the reader to stagger as if drunk. Just to clarify.) Overall, however, I have been able to maintain some shape in my days through the writing of my journal; when I write in it, I am not wholly beaten.

If I am beaten at all, that is. For when I write in my journal, I do so largely for myself (although I entertain the conceit that someone, sometime will find it of value--if that person can decipher my penhand). I am not in contest with anyone. I usually write along, so that none are present. Who, then, is to best me? Against whom do I strive? And if none, can I be beaten? And if I cannot be beaten, is there actually victory? (I am reminded suddenly of Edith Hamilton's comments in Mythology. She notes that, in effect, the Classical gods cannot be brave; they are assured of victory and so have no reason to fear. Superman is in the same vein.) Without an opponent, there is no contest, and absent a contest, there cannot be victory. Or so it seems.

There is hope in such thought, that there is no meaningful opposition. But there is also the great peril of hubris; in not facing opposition, one can easily come to believe that no opposition is possible. When it then does occur--and it will--that one is confronted not only by the opposition itself but by the shock of its sudden appearance after so long of not having any, as well as by the additional difficulty in not have practice in negotiating difficulty. It is a problem with which I have had to wrestle these past few years; I am fortunate to have been gifted and to have had the opportunity to nurture the gifts with which I have been provided. (I know it sounds arrogant. I know it reeks of privilege. Neither means it is untrue.) This means that, in a life that has been largely centered around the work to which those gifts conduce, I have not had so much trouble as a great many others have had. At times, being not nearly so wise as I am learned, I find myself feeling that such ease is my due; it is usually shortly after such times that I find myself confronted by challenges. I have not got much experience in handling them, so I react less well to them than I otherwise might. In effect, I am having to develop skills that others have long since mastered--or at least grown familiar with exercising.

Such experience informs some of my teaching. I have heard a number of my students--and others'--say that they do not need the classes we teach. One told me that she was "already a better writer than [I]'ll ever be." Some of them, doubtlessly, have been coddled throughout their schooling, told they are excellent when they are not as part of the fetishization of the child and the cult of self-esteem-building that has been presented as typical of the current American educational system. (Not that there really is a single such thing. Look into it.) Others are doubtlessly in situations similar to my own; they are gifted, the tasks presented to them have not been challenges to their gifts, and so they have come to accept success as their due. But I do not allow the tasks I set to be unchallenging; knowing that I did not begin to do really well until I was told to cut the crap and pushed to do so, and wanting my students to do similarly well, I push them. Some push back, and find that I have much better leverage than they. Others accept the acceleration and go forward farther than they had otherwise thought they could. It is for the latter that I do what I do in the classroom.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


The sun is shining
The birds are singing
Students are going to school
To sit in rows of seats
And maybe struggle to pay attention
As the warming weather shows through the windows

They can hardly be blamed
For preferring the burgeoning verdure
To the sterility of lecture and coursework
I teach
I do so gladly
But I find myself in sympathy with them

Is this what Emerson warned us about?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


My most excellent wife pointed out to me that what I wrote at the beginning of yesterday's post might not have had the desired effect. Some may have taken the statement as setup for a joke instead of a sincere disavowal of any such things and then spent the day waiting for an April Fool moment to happen. Those who did have my sympathies, but I offer no apology; I did not lie, and so I did not do a damned thing wrong. I have nothing for which to apologize--at least not in that respect. Others...I likely have much yet for which to apologize.

I do find myself apologizing quite a bit; "I'm sorry" leaves my lips often. Sometimes it is because I have honestly erred (although I do not recognize so many of my mistakes as I perhaps ought), and it is appropriate to apologize in such circumstances. (It would be better to amend the behavior so as to preempt the error and eliminate the need for apology thereby. I am not yet so skilled.) Sometimes, though, it is because I feel guilty for something that I perhaps ought not, for something that is not my fault or is not wrong but that somehow produces feelings of culpability in me. I have a guilty conscience, I suppose, although I am not entirely certain why.

I say "entirely" because I can account for it in part. I know that I benefit from things that I did not do but which were and are horrible and exploitative, and there is some guilt in that. Shakespeare says it well through Claudius in Hamlet 3.3.56 (Gee, an English major citing the Bard: how novel!): "May one be pardoned and retain th' offense?" I cannot be eased fully until I divest myself of those benefits which accrue to me through agents unseemly--yet I cannot meet my obligations to my family and my work unless I retain those benefits. I am, to pull from earlier in the same soliloquy, a man to double business bound, although I do not stand in pause; I retain the benefit and the guilt of it. I remain complicit in systems of oppression, and I dare not accept the risk involved in removing myself from those systems--for they are not mine alone.

Yet my participation in those systems also affects other than me, and while my inclination is of course to attend to Ms. 8 and my lovely wife (and in that order), I cannot say that their lives are worth any more than those of the people my actions inadvertently help to oppress and hold down--or that the lives of others are worth any less. Those who make the things we use, who work diligently to do so under conditions those who use the things would find intolerable and for all too little pay, are people of value, doing what they can to support themselves and their families no less than I am myself and mine. It is only chance that has placed me such that I benefit from their labors more than they from mine--and in a global system of production and consumption that validates that uneven benefit. And it is not to my credit that I do not do more to even the odds, for which I apologize.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


It is April Fool's Day. I am not doing anything to celebrate it, really. The world is foolish enough without adding to it on purpose.

Work continues as it ever does, both the actions that earn me (not enough) money and those that are the real work, the work on The Work. The students still show up to classes and turn in papers and quizzes (although not enough), so I must make ready lessons and spend time in grading. And I work on other projects, as well, sending out pieces in the hopes that they will make me a bit of money now and again. I have been fortunate enough to have some luck in that regard, and more recently than in the past. It is a tendency I hope to see continue.

It is not the only such tendency. Another is displayed by Ms. 8. She continues to grow stronger and more alert by the day. Yesterday, I saw her picking up her head and rolling up onto her side--entirely unassisted. She also does a fair pantomime of crawling; once she actually figures out how to get traction, she will be off like a shot, I think. I do not know whether or not I look forward to it; I am of course happy to see my daughter grow, but I know that she, being curious, will get into a number of things. Some of them will hurt her; my books, being full of knowledge, are heavy, and heavy things fall with great force onto the heads of babies who pull upon them. (If any of you who read this have good plans for building bookcase fronts, I would be happy to see them. If any of you are willing to come to Sherwood Cottage and help me build such fronts--or new bookcases entirely--I would be happy to see you.)

Appreciated also is the tendency towards warmer weather that has been evidenced around Sherwood Cottage. Not every day is warmer than the last; today is supposed to be about twenty degrees cooler. Even so, it is far warmer than it has been, such that even I, indoorsman as I proudly am, am happy to be out in the weather. Spring has managed to slip in around here, and I am glad to see it. If nothing else, the verdure makes the wintry gray the more intense by contrast--but I like many of the things that spring brings. (Flowers, for instance, although not in themselves but because they lead to honey--and honey leads to other things I like.) I like not having to spend so much money to heat my house; it is not cheap to do it here. (Indeed, it seems like I pay more to do it here than I did in The City, where everything is supposed to be more expensive.) I like also getting to use the natural light; it strikes the eye differently, and that difference--as with many differences--is quite useful.