Saturday, May 31, 2014


I look at my daughter's smiling face
Toothless mouth open in joy
And I cannot help but smile in return

How not?

But the smile is backed by tears
For as I look at her happiness
I have to consider all the ways I have failed
All the ways I will fail
All the ways she will fail
All the ways the world will fail
To treat her as I think she deserves
To treat her as she actually deserves
To treat her as she ought to be treated
As we all ought to be treated

It makes me want to weep

How not?

Friday, May 30, 2014


I have had much cause to think about sleep in the past few weeks, as well as to get a bit more of it than was the case during my teaching work. Every thing that any of us does reveals something of who and what we are; the various fine arts are lauded for their particular ability to do so, but all activities do, to some extent, bespeak their actors. It seems to me that sleep should do the same.

Ms. 8, for example, often sleeps flat on her back, arms flung out and up in a position not unlike raising hands at gunpoint. Her legs are usually angled with the soles of the feet touching, seeming froglike in posture. How to read the position, I do not know. It does not seem to me to be one particularly comfortable, but she obviously finds it so, or she would not sleep in it so much as she does. And what experiences she has had to prompt her to be in such a position, I am unsure; perhaps it reflects some of the inborn personality of her, but again, I am not able to read it.

My own sleep behavior is similarly opaque to me. I rarely recall what I dream or even that I dream. There are some pictures of me sleeping, though, and from them and the state of my bedclothes when I have slept alone, I can make some inferences. I tend to fall asleep on my right side, yet I often sleep on my back, and I seem not to move terribly much during the night. How much I snore varies by who speaks of it, but I do grind my teeth. (That last, I can perhaps account for. I feel myself under much stress, now as ever, and I have a lot of anger hoarded away.) Too, I like to be under both a sheet and a blanket; I have trouble sleeping, even napping, without something over me, however hot the weather. (Hence part of why I love air conditioning. I am not one of the medievalists who advocates a return to the medieval.)

I would welcome any insights, any readings of what I have presented. The same is true for much of the other "artistic" work I do; I find myself unable, somehow, to critically read any of my performances, and I fear that to do so will lead to some of the same problems that accrued to Poe after his "Philosophy of Composition" went to press. Whether it is an issue of my being too close to the matter to be able to apply what faculties I have in that regard or because I am afraid of what it might I note, I would welcome readings of my own work. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see what kinds of comments would pop up in condemnation of me (because it happens); I have read some rather inventive ones over the years, and I wonder what else can be said against me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


I have lived in many places
Where rain is always welcome
Places where the dust rises quickly
Places where the soil cracks and flakes
Places where sun stands close to earth
And claps people on the shoulder
With a burning touch

When the rain comes to those places
It comes in many guises
Blessing and curse

At times
It is a steady drizzle
Annoying as it occludes windshields
Annoying as it dampens but does not wet
Annoying as the sun returns
And the drizzle vanishes from sight
But not from the feeling against the skin

At times
It is a solid rain
Doing much good as it falls from the heavens
Ouranian seed
Onanistic or conjugal matters not
Helping the earth to bring forth life again

At times
It is a great gray curtain
Falling in continuous cascades
Sealing each off from each
Stealing sight and smothering sound
Refracting light away into a darkening leaden monotony
Drowning out all other sounds with its percussive sibilance
Save the thunder's peal
Flashing sometimes into flood
And sweeping what was once away
Destructive as fire
Supportive of life

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


As I have intimated, I was in the Texas Hill Country over the Memorial Day weekend, visiting family. Really, it was a chance for my wonderful wife and I to show Ms. 8 to some of her families who had not yet gotten to meet her; as such, it was a good trip to have taken. Ms. 8 needs to know who she comes from and where her people come from, and I imagine that there will be many more such trips in the future.

The idea reminds me that I am not as up on my own background as I perhaps ought to be; there is much in my family history of which I am unaware. There is much else to which I have been exposed that I have forgotten, letting it pass by me or thinking that I would have a chance to ask again later and finding that it has never come again. There have been some few attempts to reach out and claim that history (problematic as it may be, given the broader social contexts in which it has been enmeshed), and some of them have yielded results I have set down where Ms. 8 may be able to read them someday. (I say "may" because the atrocious state of my pen-hand is well known among my family and my students.) Not all have, though, and I have to think that the limits on my own experience preclude me from asking some of the questions that could be asked to great effect.

Some of that will be endemic to the human condition, certainly; we are all of us limited, and those limits prevent us from seeing some of the gaps that exist. When we are within those gaps ourselves, they become harder to recognize as gaps; the allegory of the cave comes to mind to suggest that we can only with difficulty perceive those limits which are long placed upon us, that when our restrictions are intrinsic to our worldview, they do not appear as restrictions. I like to think that I have been able to turn around in the cave a bit, even if I am still in chains and have yet to feel the warmth of the sun upon my face. But even that small glimpse of light has shown me that there is much I do not know--much my daughter will need to know but that I cannot teach her.

How fortunate I am--that Ms. 8 is--that there are people who will happily account for the gaps in my knowledge and expertise, people who will tell her the stories that inform her familial backgrounds and who will show her what she needs to see that I cannot see! For that is a kind of privilege, as well, that she and I are able to know our families at all, and one not shared by as many people as ought to be the case. But it is one that I think may be exercised without much in the way of guilt...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Through rain on the roads returned we to home
Leagues many lying long between
Starting and settling in site of our choosing,
Place of peace, potent for rest.
Good was the going to green hills
Watered now well, washed by the rain,
Streams out of season from the skies at this time
In limestone layers of legend and song.
Better the back-coming and beds our own to seek.
Fair is the family, fairer the home,
But soon we will seek them again.

Monday, May 26, 2014


I have no substantive discussion of Memorial Day to offer this year, as I have in the past. I am in the Texas Hill Country with family. It is generally good for the soul but not so good for the kind of free reading and focused investigation that makes for any kind of critical work--even the glancing, passing bits of it I do in this webspace.

The trip has been markedly damp, and it is most welcome. The part of the world where I grew up has had a dearth of rain in recent years, so that any water coming from the heavens is welcome. Storm systems have been moving through and look like they will continue, and it is a happy sight. I wish I could take credit for it, in fact, but I am not so mighty.

Ms. 8 has benefited from the trip (and it was largely for her benefit that we have made it). She is getting to meet members of the extended family who have wanted to meet her and who have been excited about her being in the world. They have been kind to her, and I take comfort in knowing that she is well loved by my people.

Being grandparents seems to agree with my parents. Ms. 8 is their first grandchild (which makes sense, given that I am their first child and she is mine), and they are quite enamored of her. It is good to see, and it is also good to see that my younger brother seems very much happy to be the uncle that Ms. 8 has made him.

That I am in a position to see and to appreciate such things is in part the work of those who have gone before, who have fought and died in places far and near, and I thank them for it. Problematic as it may be, I thank them. My daughter is good to have in my life, and the costs that have accrued in bringing her to be are remote...

I imagine that I will have some more thinking to do.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I find myself once again
In the Texas Hill Country
Where I grew up
And much looks to be the same
The hills are in their old accustomed places
If perhaps strewn more
With human encroachment
And much of what was strewn
While I was there before
And before that
Is yet in place

I remember too much

I remember too much of who I was then
And I am not proud of it
A small person
In a small world
Among many other small people
All of us trying to feel big
Except those who actually succeeded at it

How many of us are still in the attempt?

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Again, to be on the road
But not alone
Instead, as one of the many-headed stream
Of many branches
Flowing as blood
Over the streets
And roads
And highways
One little bit of hemoglobin
Iron with impurities
Carrying something from intake to use to output
The car is even red

It is a driving day

Friday, May 23, 2014


I was considering something I wrote earlier in the week last night, and it occurred to me that I was exercising my privilege to do so. In discussing matters as I do in the earlier post, I do so from a position of 1) marked freedom connoted by the (relatively) anonymous medium of online discourse and by my vocation as a scholar in the academic humanities; 2) knowing that my circumstances are temporary, as I have the assurance that I will be returning to work; 3) having avenues for release and retreat that are not and have not been available to many with whom I would claim to empathize, as my most excellent wife clamors to take up the care of Ms. 8 when she returns from work and I have my writing to divert me; and 4) assumed normative social conditioning. In failing to recall these things, I have erred, and I have to regard as suspect (at least) those conclusions drawn from the erroneous chain of reasoning.

For I do approach the issue from having had a fairly traditional upbringing as the son of working-class people from the American Midwest, and so I do at least initially regard the world through a particular lens that is, upon examination, formed (what is the right word for lens-making?) from assumptions casually and in many cases obliviously oppressive and repressive. (For I do not believe that those who taught me are deliberately racist and other -ist. I do think, however that "the way things are done" is as it is because it displaces the effects of doing things the way they are done. Out of sight, out of mind, after all.) And because I have been trained to look for and look at the systems in place that sustain such assumptions, I see problems in them and try to minimize my complicity with them (I have not the skill sets to eliminate it, and I cannot risk the cost to those most directly in my charge and care to develop them.); at the same time, I try to remain connected to the places and circumstances from which I come. Problematic as they may be, they inform who and what I am, and while I cannot say whether or not who and what I am are good, I cannot set them aside.

I do not mean to minimize the struggles of others by reporting my struggles; I know that my problems are small against the great problems of the world and the many problems many other people face. I do mean to say that I am working to improve upon myself. There are many ways in which I do not suffice, as I have noted, and I am trying to reduce their number and the extent of my insufficiency. And I do want to better understand what other people face, if for no other reason than to better understand where I fit into the world. How much of that can happen, though, is unclear to me. My position blinds me to certain things, and I know not how to see them all...

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I seem to have been writing more poetry of late. I am not sure why. If poetry is supposed to be the exaltation in verse of things that exceed quotidian prose to convey with any semblance of justice, then many of the little snippets of verse I push forth are failures, or I am exceeded by much in my life. Or both; the two are not mutually exclusive.

Lest it be thought that I bemoan myself in some pity-seeking attention-whoring...well, maybe I do, a little. But there have been times when I have been appropriately moved to verse, even if my execution has left somewhat to be desired. I recall penning a short piece in the Anglo-Saxon alliterative style for the death of Gary Gygax (I was playing a character whose deeds were recorded in the mode); I penned another at the death of my Anglo-Saxon professor (it does not do justice to the man). In both cases, I wrote in response to intense feeling, following what I have heard many say is the proper inspiration for poetic work. (In both cases, I may well have needed more practice before making the attempt.) Simply stating would not have sufficed; something about the removal from "regular" language offered by poetic form made it more equal to the task--much as I have noted before.

Many of my more recent pieces of poetry have not proceeded from such places. In writing of the summer quiet of a college town, I was mildly happy, but not overwhelmed by that happiness. In writing of resting on the day of rest, I responded to discussions I have had with people, and if they have weighed on my mind, that is more because of how my mind works than because of how my heart does.

Perhaps I use it as a respite from the work I do in prose. The Work is almost all in the kind of dense, sober prose that makes so many shy away from academic writing (and, given that I have read much more of it than many who shy away from it, I cannot say those who do so are wrong to do so). The freelance work I do is less dense, perhaps, but not necessarily more vigorous; it is written to order, and the order is for clarity and concision, neither of which corresponds to what voice I have as a poet (or as a writer of other types of prose, as might be guessed from what I include in this webspace). What I have to suppress in myself to do the work that needs to be done in freelancing and in The Work--which do occupy most of my time--builds up, or would did I not express it.

That can be an unpleasant image, my poetic efforts as expressions, as if they are the pus and stagnant oil that accrue behind blackheads and would swell the skin as blemishes were they not pressed upon and forced out, little splatters of what was stuck beneath the surface unattractively strewn across a bathroom mirror, soon wiped away and forgotten...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


It should be obvious that my schedule has changed somewhat with the end of the term and the beginning of the summer hiatus. Sleeping until the entirely-too-late hour of seven in the morning since getting back from my Michigan adventures has had some good effects; I feel better, anymore, although I cannot say that I look or act any better. And I am not getting less work done than I did while the semester was on, although it is of somewhat different sort. Freelancing continues, as does work on The Work, while grading is fortunately set aside for a time and lesson prep can be put off for a while as my upcoming schedule solidifies itself. Each is appreciated.

Perhaps less appreciated is the encroaching summer heat. The formal beginning of summer, as determined celestially by the solstice, is a month away, yet the weather around Sherwood Cottage has begun to act as though the summer is in full force. My wife and I will need to do somewhat to secure the place against the warmth; it is no better suited to keeping out the febrile heat than it was to keep out the biting cold earlier this year. We plan to hang curtains between rooms, blocking off the kitchen and living room from one another so that the cool of the air conditioner in one room does not have to fight so hard against the warmth of cooking. (I plan also to try to do more cooking on the grill, following Robb Walsh's note that there is some perversity in simultaneously heating the house while trying to cool it.) The idea that isolating the parts of the house from one another will aid in keeping at least some parts comfortable without sending our utility bills to unacceptable heights is one we bring with us from Bedfordside Garden in The City; it worked decently enough there, and so it ought to help here.

At present, we run the air conditioners only in the later afternoon, when the heat gets oppressive, and when we seek to sleep, so that the compressors can remove some of the stickiness from the air. And I have to wonder at the changes that have taken place in me and mine, that we who grew up in Texas and lived so long in Louisiana are now so discommoded by warmth that is not yet summer--and that we know is not yet summer. Did the time in The City so weaken us against such things? Are we so much less enduring than we were? And if so, how can we return to the hardihood our childhoods ought to have instilled in us? (It is not the only return with which I am concerned; my physicality has diminished somewhat as I have done the work I have done here. I really need to start working out again, even if it is only in going to the gym on campus. Ms. 8 deserves to have a healthy father, and I am not doing as well in that regard as I ought to do.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


There is this to say
About living in a college town
Holidays are quiet
As are summers

In fall and spring
The town teems with youth
Come from afar and staying near
Gathering together in the thousands
With predictable results

Where town and gown
Are not so separate
The gown seems to cloak the town
And it seems to me
It needs to be better laundered

But commencement has commenced
And passed
And those who took part in it
And those who seek to do so
Have for the most part gone away
The gown hung once again
On the back of the office door
Or in the garment bag at the back of the closet
And the town is unencumbered once again

Those who remain
Have quiet to pair with the burgeoning summer heat

Monday, May 19, 2014


My wonderful wife returns to her nearly full-time employment today, which is good for the family finances. (Having babies is not cheap.) It does put me into a position I find interesting, however. Since Ms. 8 was born, the Mrs. has done the bulk of the child-care. Since she got maternity leave to do so early on, and I did not get paternity leave, it made quite a bit of sense, and since my job pays me more than hers does her, it made sense that my work would be the work to continue in full force while hers was put off to the side somewhat. And for the past couple of months, we have arranged our work schedules such that I have been home when she is at work and she when I have been--which meant she was home with Ms. 8 most of the time.

Now, though, things are different. I am not working, as I have noted, although I am not out of work (my job resumes in the fall, and my paychecks are spread out across the year because I filled out the paperwork to get them to be so). My wife is working close to full time (she gets 38 hours a week, I think, just shy of full-time status as I recall), and I continue to be home to care for Ms. 8 when the Mrs. is working. I am, in effect, a stay-at-home dad for the summer, which is unusual for me (although not unwelcome). Given my upbringing and the systemic biases of the mainstream society of the United States, I had not before expected that I would be in the role of homemaker while my wife is out working (and even now, I pull in more money monthly than she does, rightly or wrongly). Yet here I am, with Ms. 8 in her cradle nearby, and the Mrs. off at work until early evening, and I have dishes and laundry to do, among others.

I view the situation as one from which to learn and grow. It is an opportunity to practice some of the skills that I have (I do generally keep a clean house, and my cooking is getting better), and I value that. It is also an opportunity to bond a bit more with Ms. 8, something in which I am invested; I love my daughter, and it is nice to be able to spend time with her. She smiles sweetly and often, and it is good to see her do so. And the situation offers me some limited insight into gendered standards that still undergird much public perception--limited because I know that the situation is temporary, that I will be returning to work outside the home in the fall, and so I do not have the specter of "being stuck" that many women have faced and still face in the United States and dare not bemoan ("You feel trapped by your kids? What kind of person are you?"). So I do not equate my experience with those of others--but I think I may be able to make a marginally useful simile, at least.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Lazy Sunday mornings
Some of the few times
Indolent without regret

Scripture holds that the Sabbath is a day of rest

For those who subscribe to such things
Which is not everybody
And often they are disregarded
Who do

Seldom has
Rising early
Dressing smartly
Sitting in uncomfortable pews
While people pretend to belief
Been restful

Seldom has
Rising early
Dressing however
Sitting in uncomfortable pews
While people who are otherwise ostracized actually demonstrate belief
Been restful
Although it has been worth giving up the rest to see

The latter is not here
And so I remain at rest
On lazy Sunday mornings
While I may

Saturday, May 17, 2014


A few random bits, briefly:

The past few days have been wonderfully spring-like at Sherwood Cottage--which is unusual. It should be somewhere between quite warm and actually hot, with stifling air, while it is instead breezy and pleasant. Surely something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Work continues as it ever does. I have a freelance piece lined up, and I mean to take care of it across the day today. I also have a tutorial to offer this afternoon, which ought to be good. And I was able to get some work done on the book chapter, which helped.

Ms. 8 continues to grow and develop. Her legs are getting stronger; she can push herself away from things quite forcefully if she can get purchase. She is also trying quite hard to talk; her lips and tongue move in ways that are funny to watch as she watches other people talk.

She, the Mrs., her mother, and I went to the Fridays Food Trucks and Tunes event in downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma, last night. The event (which is the kind of thing I am generally happy to attend) is in its infancy--the first gathering was yesterday--and was fairly pleasant. I look for it to build as it repeats in the coming months. I certainly hope it does; food festivals are worth having.

My mother-in-law has been visiting for the past couple of weeks; she heads out today. Things have gone well. I have no cause to complain.

My teaching schedule for the fall is in flux. I had been told initially to expect three sections of composition and one of introductory literature. An email arrived yesterday asking if I can teach technical writing. I am capable of doing such things, but I am a literature guy, and I want to keep the literature class. I replied that I am willing to help if I can do so; I have yet to hear back. I wonder what other changes will be coming through...

Personal news runs to the egotistical.

Stillwater is much quieter now than it was a week or two ago. That it is largely a college town is evident; the term has ended, and the local university is not long on summer course offerings, so the students are largely gone. The locals seem to be happy about the event; there is not so much separation of town and gown here as there is in many other places, and the money that college students generate for a town has to be welcome, but I can easily understand not wanting always to have to put up with "them damned kids."

There are several stacks of reading waiting for me to attend to them. I know people who would despair of ever getting the reading done. I am not one of them, but I find that I wish for a day where I can sit and read--and in which I have the will to do so, which is not always the case.

Friday, May 16, 2014


We are told
To be original
Is to be good
To be derivative
Is to be bad
To be commercial
Is to sell out
Is desirable

Why it is
That working from what has gone before
Is bad
Is unclear

We are none of us
We are all of us
Blends of prior people
Amalgamations of circumstance
Not one bit authentically us
Except in the specific combinations

Why not play that up?

Thursday, May 15, 2014


It occurred to me yesterday that I am decently placed. I have a decent enough job, and I have freelancing opportunities that allow me to bring in a bit more money. Too, I have the time to pursue many of those opportunities and my continued work on The Work, which I value greatly. More, I have a supportive family, a talented brother whom I can actually call a friend, a loving wife, and a precious (and bound to be precocious) daughter. Others have far less, even as a great many have a fair sight more, and I am not unmindful of the ways in which I have been blessed.

I find, however, that it is not enough. My job is one with a time limit on it, and while I may well be renewed, I may well not be. Freelance work as to be done now, and while working on it, there is always the chance that better opportunities will come by and be missed because the already-existing jobs block them from view. The time spent on The Work leads people to condemn those who do it as lazy, lounging about the ivory tower in intellectual onanistic mimesis. And the family...I have to support my wife and Ms. 8, and while I am more than happy to have them in my life, I am aware that I get that privilege by way of substantial responsibility to them. For which reason I find that I cannot simply accept what is and enjoy it; I have to make sure that they are secure.

That acceptance has been an issue of some contention. I have been told more than once, and by more than one person, that I should not get so focused on where I need to be that I miss where I am, that I should enjoy things as they are. I have found that I cannot do so--and I do not recall that I have ever been able to do so. To my mind, such acceptance abets laziness, and I am already too much indolent. Such acceptance abets complicity with systems of oppression because it precludes examination of events. Such acceptance leads to an unwillingness to improve matters; if things are okay, and okay is enough, there is no incentive to change--not even for the better.

I know that I do not yet suffice. I know that where I am and what I do are not yet as good as they ought to be. I do not accept that the results I have had as yet are the results that should be final, and so I do not accept my current circumstances. What little I can do to change them, I do; I work to find more stable employment and higher-paying, and I work to do more of The Work besides, and I do both while doing what else I can to make my way and keep my family fed and housed. There is not much time left to appreciate where I am, at least as people seem to have told me I ought to do. And if I really appreciate the people in my life, should I not do as much as I can do to support them? I know that presence trumps presents, but my being around is not helpful if it comes at the cost of being without a home or food to eat...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I was able to wrap up my duties to my institution on Sunday, filling idle moments in the later morning and early afternoon with the things that needed doing so that I could discharge my responsibilities--for one term. It would be...inaccurate to assert that I and others in my position are "free," however. Work to guide the classroom still needs doing, because there are classes coming, and they will need every bit as much attention as those classes that have just passed. What classes they are has already been shown to me, although the times of those classes are not clear yet; still, I know what is coming, and so I have to begin to prepare for them. And there is the rest of the work that needs to be done.

It seems to me that I have addressed such things before, the idea that those who teach have the time between teaching terms "off." It is true that we do not meet with students (or as many; I have what appear to be two tutorials during the summer as standing appointments, and others might happen). But it is also true that there are things other than standing in front of the classroom that are part of instructional work, and it is true that there are parts of the job other than instructional work. The Work demands that new knowledge be uncovered and substantiated, and even in the academic humanities, where that knowledge and its substantiation are less tangible, that takes time and dedicated effort.

Some doubtlessly question the value of work in the academic humanities. "Why," they ask, "can't we just read a book or watch a movie and enjoy it? Why does it have to be picked at?" Such questions betray an association of enjoyment and passivity, that a thing is best simply received rather than engaged, a consumptive attitude that evokes scorn in many of my colleagues and pity in me. While I certainly appreciate sitting back and watching things, and there are times when it is the appropriate way to act, I also know that there is great pleasure in figuring things out--for those who can do so. (Elitist? Certainly. But accurate. Not all are equipped or trained to be able to untangle ideas from each other.) Just as there is a different pleasure, and likely a greater, in, say, playing judo as opposed to simply watching it, or to playing baseball rather than watching it, there is a different and likely greater pleasure in wrangling with the text (whatever its form) than in simply spectating it.

We are consistently surrounded with symbols. They are used to manipulate us. The academic humanities call attention to those symbols, looking at them and looking behind them to see not only what they suggest about themselves but about those who inscribe them and those who are expected to read them. Looking at them and figuring out how they function--coming to understand thereby what it is that people are based upon what they do--needs much doing, and it does not stop needing that doing because the summer has come.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I am back in Sherwood Cottage, and happily. All that had been for me to do to this point is done; grading is over and one conference is closed out. I can now focus on such things as the book chapter and other Tales after Tolkien materials, as well as on doing my freelance work for my family. (I was reasonably good about money at the conference, but a trip into another time zone and across many degrees of latitude has costs that cannot be avoided. I am thinking of setting up a donations site of some kind, just to see if people will give me money and how much. I am, after all, a successor of the greatest Geoffrey's Clerk.)

This is only the second summer that I have had off from the classroom since I started graduate school nearly eight years past. The last one was in 2012, after I completed my doctorate, and I thought that I had earned a bit of time off. (Probably true, actually, but probably not so much as I ended up taking.) This time, I do not have any such extravagances planned; I am not bound for the University of Cambridge (although I wish I were) or Dublin or London (ibid.), nor am I doing much to bounce around the country and see various parts of my family. One or two trips, yes, but not the month-long excursions that happened that summer, and one of those is for another conference rather than to visit family (although there are some family friends nearby whom we might see).

For the most part, though, I will be home or close to it. And I do no see myself getting out terribly much; there is plenty to do at Sherwood Cottage, to be sure. I have my writing, and I have tutorials to give. Ms. 8 needs more attention and will begin to need more explicit guidance. (I am gratified that those at the conference to whom I showed her pictures approve of the girl. I would have hated to have had to hurt them.) And I probably ought to take greater pains to take care of myself than I have been; I have gotten only minimal exercise (walking, mostly) and I cannot allow the situation to continue. The trip reminded me that while I am not old, I am not as young as I have been, and my physical indolence has not helped me stay so. (As much as I ever have been, which I know is debatable.)

How fortunate I am, then, that I have the kind of free time I have during the couple months of summer. How fortunate, too, that some of what I do may actually bring in a bit of money for me and mine; much of what I do is done fairly cheaply, but not all of it, and the summer heat prompts certain considerations (although it might be interesting to see how people could stand to live before air conditioning--the comparison might well be illuminating).

Monday, May 12, 2014


The singer sings that he longs to be again on the road
It is clear that he is not the one doing the driving
That the seat in which he sits above the asphalt ribbons
Is not confining

I am
Mine is

Yet even though I know at the end of the day
My hips will ache
My buttocks will be sore
My legs will shake
I am glad to be on the road
I am glad to be going home
I am glad to be

It occurs to me that this is my five hundredth post to this webspace. Aren't you special, that you get to read it?

Sunday, May 11, 2014


The first bit to discuss today is that it is Mothers' Day, and so I say to my own mother, my grandmothers, and my loving wife "Happy Mothers's Day!" (I have already made the appropriate phone calls about the event.)

The formal end of the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies is drawing to its end, and it is a sad time. The past few days have been an intense rush of developing knowledge and understanding, and they have included no small amount of camaraderie, friendships renewed and begun. I have been fortunate to have benefited greatly from all of them; I have leaned much this year, and I have done so amid most excellent company. It is something I very much hope to repeat in future years; I have every intention of coming back to do this again.

Attendance at this conference is something of an addictive phenomenon. For many, it is a chance to relive days of glory, to once again go about as if the world is in its spring and all things and they are full of promise and the boundless energy that seeks that promise. For them and for others, the conference produces a euphoria that is in many cases far better than sleep, a joy that refreshes even as it proceeds from a pouring out of self into the communion not of saints but of sages, each putting into and taking from an ever-emerging gathering of insight and wisdom that is not depleted, however much may be withdrawn, so long as those who care to tend it are here.

Alas, though, that such a thing cannot endure! For those of us who enter into it do so only through removal from the works of our days, removal from home and family and friends. We are here only because we are not there, and there is where we ought as a rule to be. Nor yet can the drive and intensity of the Congress be sustained. Many who act as if it is their spring again are long into their winters, rightly enjoying the sudden thaw but soon to be iced-over again. Others are burning through themselves to burn brightly and illumine much, but they will soon need fuel again, and already they are more of embers than of brands.

And there is this: Were we together longer, the annoyances and vexations that we can put of for a few days, we would be able to defer no longer. We would begin to see each other as we would not be seen save by those who love us most dearly (and ought to work not to be seen by them thusly). Parting now, we part in friendship and with eagerness to meet again in time to come. It is a good way to end.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


The first order of business today, as I get started writing quite late in it, is to wish my mother a happy birthday. How old she enough. She is old enough. And that should be all there is to the matter.

The next order of business is to continue reporting from the International Congress on Medieval Studies. I spent much of yesterday engaged in the business of the Tales after Tolkien Society, of which I am a member. The Society is dedicated to the study of medeivalism in genre, not only in writing but in all media, not only from a scholarly perspective but from a creative--and we are looking to cement ourselves as part of the academic and general communities. To that end, we need more members, so if you have or someone you know has an interest in looking at how genre appropriates the medieval--and even how it defines what it is to be medieval--join the conversation; join the Society.

Present plans include an expansion of our online presence; a blog and several social media ventures are in development, and I will doubtlessly be posting more about them here once they get underway in anything approaching earnest. Each will invite people to examine and reflect upon various materials too frequently underexamined and to be in contact with scholars and artist in a way that we anticipate will advance mutual understandings of how parts of the past are continually made present. I hope you and yours will join us in making Tales after Tolkien a continuing success.

The Society will also be proposing sessions for the 50th Congress, likely a traditional paper session or two, a roundtable, and a business meeting. There are plans to have the Society propose sessions at other conferences, as well, beginning with those which current active members of the Society attend. (Since I am one of those, expect that there will be more information about the endeavor posted to this webspace, as well, once things get going.) We also continue to work to get our first collected volume into production, and other academic and creative projects are forthcoming.

I also had the great honor of presiding over the Middle English Arthuriana general session yesterday, which consisted of three excellent papers. The idea of reading the Arthurian chivalric ethic as a refiguration of Stoic virtues is intriguing (and serves to validate the examination of current work for its refigurings, since the medievals being refigured were themselves refigurers), as is work on the purpose of digression in romance and the way in which it queers narrative time. Similarly interesting is the notion that gravesites colonize--and the concomitant idea that the lack of grave markers bespeaks subjugation and Othering. I will be looking for further developments from the scholars whose work I was privileged to hear--and who made me look like I knew what I was doing as a session presider.

Today will be a bit more relaxing a day for me; my formal, official duties are done for the conference, although I have some other activities that I will be doing. Tomorrow, I will again be a bit delayed in making my comments to this webspace (the computer labs only open so early), but there will be things to discuss, I am certain.

Friday, May 9, 2014


I continue at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Today is my busy day at the event; I am to present a paper, to chair a panel, and to attend a business meeting. Other things might happen, as well; it will depend on how my scheduled events go.

Briefly, in other news, the third final exam for which I am responsible is being held today, and my thanks go to my colleague Dr. Jason Roberts for agreeing to oversee it in my absence. I will have some grading to do, I know, once again--but this last blast of it ought to be the last until the fall.

More to present concerns, though, is that the conference has continued to treat me well. I attended a couple of excellent sessions yesterday and met up with a friend for lunch at a wonderful Middle Eastern place I encountered last time I was at the Zoo. It was good to catch up, even though said friend and I are in fairly regular contact through social media; some things are better said in person. Said friend's paper was among those presented at the sessions I attended yesterday, as well, and it was good to hear papers approaching the kinds of materials I treat from directions entirely different from those I use to treat them. There is something to be said for the exposure to different ideas.

That idea was the examination of text through quantifiable data. Typically, those who study literature as literature avoid the use of quantitative data in their studies, being either untrained for it or operating out of a disdain that bespeaks something of the sour grapes mentality. (The dismissal of such data as "mere counting," which I have heard people do, rings of jealousy that the "mere counting" ends up being the method of data collection socially prized--insofar as any data collection is socially prized among the non-intellectual or anti-intellectual.) Yet there is much to be gained from attention to the numbers embedded in the words we read. For example, in one of the papers I had my students write during the term now ending, the students were obliged to examine a number of articles in the hopes of distilling standards of comparison from them. Several of the items examined were entirely quantitative, counting the numbers of paragraphs and sentences and words and working out the relationships among those numbers. Such concerns did interact with the representativeness of examples identified and thus with the conclusions to be drawn from those examples. One of the panels I attended worked in much the same line of inquiry, counting syllables and stresses in lines of poetry to make determinations about that poetry and to be able to draw conclusions from them. (I would have liked to have had a more solid background in numeracy than I do as I listened to the papers, actually.) And I am sure that other projects could benefit from the same methodologies; we read and write a lot of words, and there are things embedded in them that will only appear if we look at them a bit differently. Those of us who do know the pieces ought to be the ones to do it, rather than handing over "math" stuff to those who have not our vested interests in the texts.

This is the kind of thing that occurs to me at Kalamazoo. And this is why I keep coming back--or one of the reasons.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


As advertised, I am at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I will be attending several panels and presenting a paper. I am very much glad to be here, particularly after being on the road for some sixteen hours yesterday to get here. (It still beats flying, though.)

One of the interesting things about repeatedly attending a conference that happens in the same place year to year is that it permits a view of how the place grows and changes. I have seen buildings go up at Western Michigan University in the years I have been attending the conference, and I find myself wondering what it is like to be a student with such facilities available. Usually, those of us who work in the academic humanities and with the medieval find ourselves relegated to the older and less maintained parts of campus.* Our work is not the kind of work that tends to attract new building funding, after all..

As I note above, I was on the road for some sixteen hours to get from Sherwood Cottage to the Valleys of WMU. It was not a bad drive, really, just long, and I was able to be on the Mother Road, Route 66, for a fair bit of it. (I did, in fact, brush by Chicago on the way. And there was a Blues Brothers joke; I saw a sign that pointed to both Joliet and Elwood.) It was good practice for taking Ms. 8 on the road in years to come--as my wife and I will be doing at some point, certainly. It was also good to get off of the road at the end of the trip and find my bed, even if it is badly sheeted and in an un-air-conditioned room that overlooks some kind of grinding machinery.

So far this morning, I have already met up with a friend from previous conferences and been by the storied exhibit hall (which was in the final stages of setting itself up for work). I even picked up a few books that will be helpful in one of my many academic projects, and I did so cheaply (but I will be good for the rest of the conference; I need to continue to have a bank account). I also got word that one of the pieces of work I have been awaiting is where I can look at it, so I will be doing that in short order and getting more of my responsibilities discharged. (Grading continues, as it ever does, even at the zoo.)

There will be more to report in the coming days, of course, and those reports will not be on my usual morning schedule; I do not have the same access to computing facilites here that I do at home, of course, and on the day I drive back from the Valleys to Sherwood Cottage, scheduling will be...interesting. But I will still do what I can to keep up with things; somebody might, maybe, find it useful or entertaining.

*I did have classes in the newest building on campus once and for a short time as an undergraduate. It was neat to be one of the first to get to use the facility. I could hope to make a more lasting mark, however.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Today, I am on my way to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to take part in the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies. It will be the fourth time I have attended the conference, and I am eager to return; I have had a good time every time I have gone so far, and I expect that I will be able to do so once again this time. I have the assurance of steady employment in the coming year, which will improve my outlook going into the event, and I have already been in touch with people I know from past years' meetings, so I am assured also of meeting up with old friends. (Not that I am saying any of them are old, per se, only that I have known them for some time. Please don't hurt me.)

While at the conference, I will be presiding over a regular session, Middle English Arthuriana, as well as presenting a paper in the Tales after Tolkien Society sponsored session and attending its business meeting. I was part of the initial sessions of the Society at the Congress, so I am eager to return to it. Too, the Society is still in its infancy, and I hope to be able to work with others to develop it into an ongoing concern. The Society is concerned with the place of medievalism in genre--and not just in fantasy literature (although certainly within it); there is much more work for it to do, and I would not be averse to taking on some of it. Indeed, it is that willingness that led me to submit to the Tales after Tolkien collected volume forthcoming from Cambria Press. (And I know I need to work on that. Guess what the first project after I get back from the conference is, as well as the reading I have decided to take with me to the conference.)

I will have computer access while I am at the Congress; Western Michigan University is generous in making resources available to conference attendees. I will still have some things to do from work; exams are not yet done, and the deadline for grade submission approaches. I expect, though, that I will be able to make a few odd comments in this webspace while I am at the great gathering of medievalists, even if they are not quite on my normal schedule. It is quite the event, and I hope to be able to convey some of the joy I feel at attending it, at being among other scholars in my field as I do not get to be as often as I would prefer, sharing ideas and partaking in some small ways of the things that we study for months and years at a time. I cannot do so as well in days-later retrospect as I can when I write daily, and so I will strive to keep up with what I post here. But I cannot make any promises...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


No celebrations, funny or otherwise, call themselves to mind today; it is a perfectly ordinary exam week Tuesday, and I am not administering any tests (although I do still have some work to do from having done so yesterday). I have, in fact, not yet entered any grades into the formal record system. Yet I have already begun to hear the rumblings of grade complaints; I have gotten at least one email saying something to the effect of "I should have a B--most of my papers were Bs--one paper shouldn't screw me over and make me have a C." How many others are waiting for me, I do not yet know, but I will all too soon. (They will get the same reply: "I am obliged to assess performance by its demonstration, and I must assign grades based upon that assessment." All of which is true. Little of which helps to dissuade students. Perhaps I ought not to reply to the emails--but that would get me labeled as unhelpful, and I am already much an asshole.)

I can only shake my head sadly at the event anymore. I know it is coming every term; few students are willing to accept that their performance has not been at the level they believe they deserve. Many do not know what they actually deserve; they are in school precisely because they do not know how the material functions and how their responses to the material ought to function. They forget that those who assess them know quite a bit more about the material--and that most of them have assessed hundreds or thousands of other students. They forget also that the time to worry about grades is while they are being earned, not after they have been earned; the end of the term is not the time to complain about a score on a paper due more than a month earlier or a reading done nearly two months past. Yet my colleagues and I are expected, as a rule, to entertain the ideas that the students have been mistreated, that we were overly harsh in our expectations, and that what we teach really doesn't matter because the students "will never really use it."

It creates some kind of contradiction, whether paradox or oxymoron or catch-22 I do not know. If we lean on the students, believing (as I do, for example) that the push will stimulate superior performance and that it is to superior performance that we are to lead the students, then we are being too harsh, setting our standards too high, or setting students up to fail. If we do not lean on them, trusting that they will develop their own knowledge independently with minimal instructor input, we are being too lenient (and undermining the perceived need for ourselves, which is hardly the argument any professionals should propagate about their professions--although teaching is increasingly not regarded as being a profession). Bluntly, it is a fucked situation, and one for which the remedy escapes me--unless I am to be as Machiavellian as the ever-to-be-lauded underpinnings of business would have me be...

Monday, May 5, 2014


Once again, ¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! And, as has been pointed out, after yesterday, enjoy Revenge of the Fifth!

Unfortunately, I will not be able to make much observance of either the holiday or the joking pseudo-holiday. Today is the first day of exams for the term, and I have two of them to give today. This means, of course, that I have two sets of them to grade today, and since I am heading off to the International Congress on Medieval Studies later this week, I have to get the grading done quickly (and I just got stacks of grading done over the weekend). I also have some other projects that need attention before I leave. So no parties for me tonight, more's the pity. There will be others.

With exams beginning today, the term is ending. There have been semesters I have been glad to see go. (Those who recall some of my more choice comments from the end of last term can guess about which I mean.) This term, the Spring 2014 at Oklahoma State University, is not one of them. Certainly, there have been students I have not appreciated, but my classes have been good experiences overall. That I got to teach in my area made much difference, I think. That I have also been as busy as I have been outside the classroom, working on pieces of The Work and on actual paying jobs, has also helped. And Ms. 8 coming into the waking world has not hurt my opinion of the time in which she did so.

I will miss many of the students whom I expect to see for the last time today. I will miss the rapport I built up with them over the past fourteen or fifteen weeks, miss getting to see them wrestle with concepts and arrive at new understandings. (I will not miss the grading.) Some of them have actually begun to awaken to broader possibilities--and it is not only those in my field of whom I speak. Many reported to me having a new understanding and appreciation of what those in the academic humanities do, both the work that goes into doing it and the value of it. I mark it as a successful academic experience for them. It validates my work at the front of the classroom, to be sure, and even if the students sought only to flatter me, I am gratified that I am seen as meriting appeasement rather than open scorn and derision.

I am not teaching over the summer, which is strange to me. It should offer me more time to work on The Work, which is helpful; I have several projects still to do, including a book chapter for which I need to do a lot of reading in a hurry. (Thank God I read quickly.) And it will offer me a fair bit of time with Ms. 8, which I also appreciate. Once the summer is over, though, I do not know what I will do. Perhaps I will have such good classes once again; I certainly hope so.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


May the Fourth be with you!

It is, of course, the pseudo-holiday celebrating the Star Wars franchise in all its glory and its pain (because a lot of it is painfully bad). I have marked the day before in this space, if only briefly. Too, in something entirely unrelated, this is the anniversary of my making funny electronic marks in this space; today marks four years I have been blogging here. A retrospective would seem to be called for.

The first post in this blog took place at 10:29am EDT on 4 May 2010. It is something of a bridge post, linking from what had been weekly bits cross-posted on several blogging platforms that seem now to be defunct. (The link itself no longer functions, the relevant page having vanished and the Internet Wayback Machine having no record of it. Not all data is preserved.) It offers no substantive commentary, but only a brief bit of forty-four words that say little and do less. Indeed, it was not until 6 May 2010 that I actually wrote anything in this blog that has any value (but I have made much use of that piece in the years since), and not all of what I have written since has been a credit. (Not for nothing is the first word of the blog title "ravings.")

Matters would seem to have improved, though. After spending a few years puttering about haphazardly, posting relatively little and being read even less, I started writing more in this blog, eventually coming to the present more-or-less daily posts. Indeed, the uptick happened at about this time last year, when I had been laid off and was looking for work. As I noted then, I suddenly had more time to write, and I took advantage of it. I have worked to foster the habit of taking time to write; it seems to be a good one, particularly for someone who teaches writing and supplements the household income through freelance writing work, or for someone who has to present papers at conferences four times in a year some years.

How much longer I will maintain this blog, I do not know. In some senses, I cannot know; I am a scholar, certainly, and there are many things I can know--but about what will come, I can only guess. I am a sage not a seer. And the thought has occurred to me that I may professionalize my blogging a bit more, consolidating my personal blog and the other online work that I do so that I need only maintain a single web-presence instead of trying to negotiate several as I currently do. That might cause some problems, though, given the propensities of my personal writing as opposed to my professional. (Where do the two divide from one another, particularly for a scholar of the academic humanities?) I intend to keep this going--and if it does move, it will only be a move, rather than an ending (and I will archive the site so that there is a record of it to which I can refer again).

So, live long and prosper.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


I am given to understand it is Free Comic Book Day. Time was that I would have been waiting im/patiently in line, talking about penciled and inked and colored lines on the page and (not always) witty dialogue with others of the nerdy persuasion. (Real nerds, not the fashionable pseudo-nerds that inundate current popular culture.) I do not now, but not from scorn of the thing; indeed, I feel the allure. No, I do not do so because I have work to do and a daughter who needs my attention, and because I need sleep to be able to do that work and offer my daughter attention. And, in all fairness, I have been removed from the comic book community for so long that I would not know how to get back into it in any way that would make sense.

It is not the only community I think I would have trouble returning to. I have before noted a sense of moving on, a sense entirely appropriate given the circumstances, and it is not the first time that I have had such a sense. I have often felt as though I have been moving on from things--probably because I have been. My parents, brother, and I moved repeatedly during my childhood, and not long after my parents found a place to settle, I went off to college. I did return, although the circumstances were not entirely what I could have wished; I mean no offense to my parents in saying so, for they were greatly accommodating (and I paid rent), but I was not in a good place, personally, at that time, and living with parents in one's early twenties is hardly a validation. (Not that I did much dating...)

College itself saw me move around in fields of inquiry. It saw friends come and go, and it at length saw me walk its grounds one last time as a student before I moved on to graduate work. There, I repeated many of the same things, meeting new people and seeing them leave until my own turn to head out came in 2009. Then I moved to New York, to the Best of the Boroughs within The City, where everyone was moving on, and quickly, as I have noted. I was fortunate to be able to take part in several communities there, including the New York Aikikai and the United Methodist Church of the Village; I benefited greatly from doing so, and I have no doubt that they would allow me back among them without hesitation did I move back to The City or its environs.

That does not seem likely, though, and I find that I try too much to recreate the experience without having access to those people who made the experiences possible. I find that I cling to the past, or that I have been doing so, and that it is futile for me to do such a thing. And with that realization, I have begun to move on again--and once again I feel somehow guilty for leaving behind good things and adrift because so many of the things that had given shape to my days are no longer where I can get to them. Or I am no longer where I can get to them...

Friday, May 2, 2014


Today is the term's last day of classes where I teach. There is not really much left to do; the three classes I have had this term are getting what amounts to exam reviews (because I am such an asshole). They will also be filling out the formal evaluations we are expected to collect from students. Today should therefore be a fairly easy day for me, which I appreciate; I have a lot of grading to do, as well as quite a bit of other work. The extra time to do so and the relatively non-taxing class prep will ease those parts of my burden.

And it is a burden. Teaching requires a damned lot of work, as those who have done it know and those who have not done it refuse to believe. I have discussed this before, several times, as have others; there is no need at this point to recapitulate the arguments made (although this comes to mind). Those who will be convinced will be convinced by what is already there; those who will not be convinced by it will not be swayed by my voice if they have not been already. Many fall into the second group; they refuse to acknowledge that evidence is evidence, relying primarily upon confirmation bias to make sense of the world. That they are indulged is likely a weakness or apathy; perhaps it is forbearance.

That teaching is a burden does not mean it is not a good one. In carrying such weight, the bearer grows stronger. In carrying such weight, the teacher holds up the student, and if the student is looking, the student can see further. Seeing further, for the student adequately supported and attentive, allows for earlier knowledge and more time to accommodate it, to acclimate to it, to assimilate it and make it the student's own. It is true that not all who teach hold others up, and it is true that not all who are held up bother to look around--but few are tall enough to see far without the support, and even those few may not know how to parse what they see without having had the uplift. Certainly, no others will be able to see as far as they need to see, and the consequences of that blindness are not welcome.*

Next week, I will lay down some of the burden I have carried these past few months. Three sets of students will no longer be mine. Some of them will doubtlessly refuse to climb upon the shoulders of another again; others will eagerly scramble up, and of them, one or two will stomp down upon those who seek to raise them. (It is another danger of teaching, something I know because I am, of course, such an asshole.) But of those who ascend, some will be looking, I know. They started to look with me, and I have seen in them the desire to look more that I know is in my own eyes. And I am pleased to have helped to put it there for those who allowed me to do so; I could wish that I could say it for more of them.

*It occurs to me that I am being somewhat ableist in my language. I do not know how else to express the matter save through the sight metaphor. It is a failing on my part.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


On May Day
I do not know
Whether to shout
And celebrate solidarity
Or send a signal of distress

For I have seen the power of workers
Standing together
Supporting each other
Acting in one another's interest
And I have seen them succeed

But I have also seen
Protectionist policies
Seniority prized above skill
Laziness creep in with tenure
And the truth in complaints

I have also seen
At-will employment
Work workers to fatigue
And for no reward to the worker
Who is soon replaced

The last happens more and more
We are made to be cogs
Used until broken
Used to be broken
Easily interchanged