Sunday, August 31, 2014


I am happy to report that Ms. 8 is doing better. She did wake up once in the night with a fever, but this morning, she woke up complaining only about being hungry; her temperature was back where it ought to be. So was her temperament; instead of whimpering or crying in pain, she is making happy babbles and offering raspberries to whatever it is that fails to amuse her. Her appetite is back, as well, and so her mother and I are quite pleased with events at this point. Things are getting back to where they need to be.

I had not been prepared for how much my little girl's suffering would affect me. At one point, while I was sitting and holding her, hoping to comfort her, she whimpered as I have heard those who have been beaten and expect another blow to come whimper, and I cried at the sound of it. I, whom many have called an unfeeling, heartless, callous asshole, felt tears trace down my cheeks at the sound of her hurting. I have attended funerals at which I shed fewer tears, in fact, than I did for Ms. 8 feeling so poorly as she did.

That such things would affect me, I expected. I knew going into the experience of parenting that I would need to make my child the most important part of life, that her needs would have to come before my own. (Wants are a different matter altogether.) I knew that the focus would entail a connection. But I did not know that it would be quite so intense as it seems to have become. It snuck up on me how much it is, in fact; it has built itself up while and where I was not looking, until it surprised me yesterday with its intensity.

This is not at all to say that it is unwelcome. Aside from the absolute jackassery that would attend on my being annoyed at feeling for my daughter and which I would wish to avoid (although that is part of the matter), there is a particular promise in yesterday's sadness. I have the hope that it will work in one of its reversals, that I will find joy in her joy. If it is the case that I can do so (and many testimonies of other parents tell me that it is for them), then, given how bubbly the girl's personality already is, I stand to be in for quite a ride.

I suppose that I have been going off on one of those happy pappy rants I know annoy the child-free and even those who have or want children who have other things to do. I do not seek to compel others to my view (in this), only to note what my own is. (Unlike an earlier Geoffrey, I am sincere in my retraction--although protestations of sincerity are hardly authoritative, I know.) It is far from unique, I know, but neither is a loaf of bread or a pint of beer, and those are both well worth having again.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Despite going to bed at around 9, skipping my evening writing to do so, I did not get as much sleep as I would have preferred. This is in large part because of Ms. 8; she woke repeatedly during the night, crying because of a low-grade fever and pain in her mouth. I understand why, actually; the little bit of tooth emerging from her lower gum is sharp, indeed. But it made for a broken night, which is not the best thing for her also-running-a-low-grade-fever father. I will manage, of course, and I am glad there have not been many such nights. (I note with chagrin that my wife absorbed most of the work of caring for Ms. 8 during the night. But she is not sick at the moment.)

At one point, though, I was awakened from sleep by the end of a dream. I do not often remember my dreams, and I do not often wake because of them, so for me to have done so this morning is an oddity. In the dream, I was teaching a literature class, and one of the students revealed himself as a domestic terrorist leader, setting off a countdown for some kind of explosive device and ordering other students to pull out Uzis and begin to shoot people. I was not valiant; I ran to my department head and told him of the bomb threat on campus while students tried to clear their weapons from their backpacks.

It was at that point I awoke, my eyes snapping open although my body did not move or spasm. I did not thrash about, so far as I know; the bedclothes were not entangling me when I woke at half past four. But the lack of reaction worries me less than the reaction I had in the dream itself. I have heard that dreams work with our core beings, or as close to those cores as can be perceived and remembered by the waking mind. If that is the case, and I ran from threats in my dream, does that mean that I am at root a coward? Or does it mean that I am interested first in self-preservation (for I did not seek to save my students)? Or that I am overly conditioned to authority (given that I ran to my superiors)?

I am not a mental health professional. I cannot say with certainty that any of those obtain. But were I to read them as theses about the inner content of a story, to apply my skills and training to the dream if I were to take it as a narrative, I might have to consider some or all of them. They are not mutually exclusive. And I would have to consider that the narrator, if the narrative were presented as a dream-sequence, shows the effects of teaching long; dreaming of being in the classroom is a certain sign of it. How fortunate, then, that this is a three-day weekend; I can use the break already...

Friday, August 29, 2014


As it turns out, I did not much enjoy my day resting yesterday. This is not because of anything bad that happened; it is because I rested. I was not about the business I should have been about, instead drifting through a have of mind-numbed...something...I cannot clearly remember at this point. I had not my usual focus and discipline, feeble as they are, and their lack grated upon me. At the end of the day, I looked back upon it and was not pleased with what I saw--a shiftless, formless mass of time (with the occasional glimmer of playing with Ms. 8, so there was some value to it).

What that annoyance suggests about me is, perhaps, telling of my acculturation. Having grown up with hardworking parents, I habitually associate adulthood with work so that not working feels to me a sort of regression to childhood--and I did not enjoy being a child. Having been a graduate student and now working as a (contingent) professor, I habitually associate being busy with having some (entirely too thin and scanty) justification for my continued existence and the paychecks that support it (one of which came today, to my joy). Having lived in the United States for all my life and as a member of the working and middle classes, I am embedded in the lingering Puritan form of the Protestant work ethic that vitiates against idleness in all forms and circumstances. Such quips as "You don't feel any better lying around, so get to work" and "Go ahead, rest; it'll be good practice for the unemployment line" (as though that is an idle situation) ring in my ears unbidden. They join the myriad other little bits of wisdom that tell me I should be working; I should never not be working, and I have to confess that, at some level, I agree with them. For of what value am I if I am not creating value (even if what I and others call "value" differ)?

Another part of me, less strong and less loud, rails against such an idea, of course. (I am trained in the academic humanities, after all.) It cries out that we are not meant only to "create value," to produce the results of the work of hands and mind. It says that we do the work to be able to enjoy the results of it, and so taking time to do so is worthy and appropriate. Yet another, somewhat louder and with more certainty, says that the work is done better by a healthy worker, so that a day to rest and recover is in order so that the work may be returned to with vigor and rigor--and, in a nod to the other, enjoying the results of work well done is easier in health than in sickness; the other agrees. Yet both know, and their composite that is my narrative voice knows that such arguments carry a teacup or a bucket against the mighty tide of prevailing standards. However much the teacup might be preferred from which to drink and the bucket from which to make use, the tide is what shapes the land.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


It is the second week of the new term and I think that one of the common teacherly events is already happening to me. For with the exposure to hundreds if not thousands of new people comes exposure to their germs, and I think some of them are trying to take hold of me.

It is not a pleasant sensation. I spent much of yesterday with a fever--in near-hundred-degree heat--and although I was able to be much indoors, the ventilation was not so good as it could be, and "much indoors" still means "outside some."

Too, there was the headache. I fought it all day, and although I held my own, I could not defeat the foe, eventually retiring. That it was joined by a neckache did not help matters; ganging up may not be honorable, but it is effective, and victory means more in a fight than most things.

Sinuses also had their say. I was phlegmy and still am, draining a bit in the back to form viscous sputum that I cast from me in disgust and to disgust when others see it. I am reminded of Sandra Cisneros, and I cannot say that I am pleased by the reminder.

Even so, I did my day's work. I was at my office just before eight, held formal hours at ten, taught my four classes beginning at eleven-thirty, worked with a student after, graded and did some scholarly reading, and then walked through the heat to tutor another student.

I worked with the last for an hour. His project is one carried over from the spring, and it is really coming along. The abstract for his paper looks good (and reminds me that I need to write one of my own), and the paper is shaping up well.

I am also prepared for classes on Friday. The lesson planning that needed to happen has happened, and while I will review my materials again then, I need not worry overmuch about doing so. It is a good position in which to be, and I hope to use it to move ahead and plan for further future lessons.

The result is that I am able to take today to rest. Not that I will be wholly idle: my Mrs. works, and so I must care for Ms. 8. There is more reading for me to do and more writing. But I need not be frantic about them. I have the day, and I can take the day instead of taking care of other things.

I am free to play a little with my writing. Different styles and different framings matter, as I have discussed and others have argued at great length. (I am minded of McLuhan and McGann.) Exploring them is of benefit to me; finding what works when helps.

I am more importantly free to enjoy the day. Not all are, I know, and I am not pleased that it is so. But I am, and so I will.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I am late to come to the topic, I know, but I was doing a bit of reading and ran into commentaries surrounding William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep. I have not read the book itself, although I begin to think that I will, but in reading the commentaries--including at least one written by the man himself--I begin to think that there is something missing from his analysis. For in his comments, he seems to be drawing a distinction between non-flagship public colleges and elite schools in terms of insulation and cliquishness, of programmatization and technocratization, and I do not think that is correct. I see and have seen such things among my own students at second-tier state schools and even a for-profit two-year technical college; they often conceive of themselves in no terms but the grades received, and they insist upon--and are often afforded--multiple chances to do things and exemptions from them. (This is aside from such as result from ADA or other protected statuses, with which I have no truck.)

This is not to say, of course, that there are not immense differences between elite and non-elite schools, or that those Deresiewicz identifies are wholly inaccurate. He reports an overwhelming abundance of upper-middle- and upper-socioeconomic-status students at the Ivies and posits a broader cross-section among other schools, and I would have to agree with that. But I have noticed that those from similar socioeconomic backgrounds tend to group together, even at "lesser" institutions; the wealthy tend to associate with the wealthy, the working-class with the working-class, and there are many cues (sartorial included) to indicate which is which. (It remains true among the professoriate, as well.) Deresiewicz also indicates differences in bureaucratic structures--and he is not wrong. State schools have state hierarchies above the schools in addition to the relatively traditional stratification of the collegiate environment, while private institutions have far less oversight in that regard. And money is an issue, although elite public universities are not exactly short on funding, and there are occasional gifts of great value even to non-elite schools.

If I am reading correctly, and I may well not be, Deresiewicz idealizes the student at the public university, not unlike the idealization of the rural life in pastoral works. The truth is not as pleasant as he might like to believe. There are scads of advisors and assistance centers run by many of the schools and many of the units within and associated with the schools. (Those of various Greek entities and athletics programs come to mind.) There are appeals processes in place that can string out decisions for weeks and months, crossing the boundaries of terms and dragging those involved back and forth across their campuses. There are meddling parents who push their students to fight for their "rights" in administrative channels (and if they would spend half so much effort on their studies...). There are the legions of adjuncts undertrodden whose work is routinely set aside or overturned by those lucky enough to have stumbled into authority. There are even the occasional threats of legal action. It is hardly idyllic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I have noted before that I keep a journal--and have done so longer than I have maintained a blog, although it seems to me of late that I am more diligent in this webspace than I am in the pen-in-hand work of journal writing. Still, I try to start and end every day with writing, and I often take what I write here from what I wrote the night before there. It often works out well--when I keep up with my writing in the journal.

It is not only morning and evening, this webspace and my paper journals, in which I write. I do so throughout the day, as well. Planning lessons, making the marginalia that inform my lessons (my "lecture notes" are in the white spaces of the books I read and from which I teach), marking papers (for grades and for general comments), drafting and answering emails to/from students and colleagues, and drafting examples for use are all writing, of course, as are my freelancing endeavors and the work I do on The Work. (Which reminds me, there are calls for papers I need to answer.) I am inundated with writing as a matter of course.

The questions might then be posed: "Why write more? Why write for pleasure or leisure when you write so much for work?" Easy answers are that I do find pleasure in putting words on the page or, following the Good Doctor, that I do it so that I do not die. Another is that I have ideas in my head that plague me until I get them onto the page, and it is only through writing that I do so, but the writing that I do in other places and for other purposes does not allow me to release the thoughts from myself as I need to do. Yet another is that by framing my days with writing, I set up the expectation for myself to be a writer, and even if I am not a writer in the sense that many people use the term--I do not make my living telling stories in print, and indeed do little to tell stories in print instead of dissecting the stories others tell--I conceive of myself as a writer as part of my scholarly identity. Since I value that identity greatly, doing what I can to support it suggests itself as a good idea.

I try to frame my days with writing to give shape to them, to bound them, and so to shape and bound myself. For I am not yet the person I would be; I still need more training and discipline to become that person. Opening and closing with a common activity helps to do that. It gives me a sense of form and a pattern to follow, a structure around which to organize parts of my life and lenses through which to view my experience. That it leaves some record of itself in doing so is an added benefit; it is a pleasant thought to consider being remembered.

Monday, August 25, 2014


The weekend just past was not the best for me, as could be guessed from the annoying brevity of my posts. For various reasons, I found myself less able to write than I prefer, a situation I found vexatious and which colored the rest of the days' events. Already, however, I feel better in that regard; I feel more able to write, and that gives me some hope and confidence for the day ahead.

How much of either I will need, I do not know. It is a teaching day, and I will be going in early so that I can more effectively mark papers. I am not recording grades, as such, but I will need to see what my students' writing looks like so that I can push them as they need to be pushed. If it follows the usual pattern, the proofreading will improve but the content and argumentation will not.

As a teaching day, and what looks like will be a long one, it is not necessarily a difficult thing to face. I have been at the front of the college classroom since 2006, after all, and after eight years of doing the work, I am relatively sure of my material and my professional identity. I may still be a bit behind in my readings, but only a bit; my information is not so far out of date yet that it does not apply.

I am aided in keeping current by the fact that I am contributing to those emergent understandings. I received word today that the issue of CCC in which I am to be published is going to print soon; I will have proofs before long. I may also have a chance at getting another book chapter out, although that will take a bit more work. And I have work for conferences yet to attend to, so I am still on the front edge of my field.

Less formally, I contribute to disciplinary knowledge in this webspace and others. My efforts for the Tales after Tolkien Society blog, Travels in Genre and Medievalism, are a bit slower than is best, perhaps (if you are interested in contributing, let me know), but they continue, as do those for a professional social network and other writing work I do. So there is that to consider.

Today, then, I face my regular work bolstered by a better feeling informed by my resumed ability to write--and that ability finds support intrinsic and extrinsic. All that remains for me to do is to seize upon it and use it in such a way as positions me to support those who depend upon me, two in particular, while balancing the other responsibilities I have to them. There is nothing about which I need worry; it is not as if I am the only one facing such a thing, and others appear to manage without trouble. Surely if they can do so, I can do so; surely I have the wherewithal to make it happen...

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I do sometimes sleep in. Sometimes, my doing so results in things like yesterday's comments, which are truncated because I do not do as well with a late start as I do with an early. And, indeed, I spent much of yesterday feeling somewhat...fogged. I was not hung over--I had not had anything that would make me so, and have not in some days, now--but I was muddled, as though I never fully woke. And that was despite the coffee and despite actually eating something for breakfast (which I do not always remember to do); it ought not to have been a problem.

Such things happen to me fairly frequently when I sleep in, and I ought to have learned the lesson and applied it to today. I did not, and while I do feel more mentally acute than I did yesterday, I also feel more than a bit sore from the experience. My neck, in particular, is quite sore, almost as it was when I was in training in judo and helped people work on their shime-waza. It is an appropriate price for me to pay for not having yet learned lessons I really ought to know; it is not as if I have not before realized the perils of too much sleep for me.

Among such perils is missing out on things. While current facilities for asynchrony mean there is less to be lost by not being awake and aware at the moment, something is lost in the mediation those facilities necessarily impose. Levels of bias and interpretation are enforced upon events as they are reported--however "neutral" or "objective" the reporter is. Science recognizes this in the observer effect, the notion that observing an event changes it--so it is not only my "touchy-feely" training in the academic humanities that leads me to make the assertion, even if it is a principle in that training. And language is notoriously imprecise; "blue" can mean this, this, this, and this, and other things, and which of them is "true" can only be guessed. These leave aside the possibilities of spin and outright lies...things that being on hand can help to reduce.

There are other things that accrue to missing out on things, and sleeping overmuch necessarily means some things are missed. I know that many people value their sleep and even enjoy it. I cannot say that I value the exchange so highly.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I knew that this would happen...

Today is a good friend's birthday--which one, I think I need not announce--and my wife, Ms. 8, and I went to one of the suburbs of the City of Thunder to celebrate it with her. We did so at an Indian restaurant not far off the Mother Road, where we ate well (perhaps too well on my part) and enjoyed good company. It was a good way to celebrate.

Today, I think I will take the day more or less off. There are things I need to do about the house, of course, and my wife has a short shift today. But my own work can wait until tomorrow, when I return to it in earnest. For now, though...a quiet cup of coffee and a bit to read will be welcome.

Friday, August 22, 2014


I had an idea for a story last night,
Another one I'll likely never write,
Not as those who know me might expect
Of kings and castles and jesters' merriment
But of mundane things, of the everyday.
And what is more, I began to play
With images. I add the story to
The list of things I need someday to do,
Which list grows longer with each passing week.
I labor long and in so doing seek
A way to clear the list of what I write
Upon it, tasks to fill both day and night.
Yet ever turns my mind to some new deed
I tell myself I'll do, and seldom heed.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


I have remarked several times before that part of the reason I try to write in the morning is the relative quiet of the time. Even in New York City, the early hours are relatively quiet; the buses and trains still run and rattle by, and some trucks go down roads they ought not, but the din and tumult are greatly muted. In the much smaller town where I now live, I have found far more quiet in the mornings (and at all times), particularly since it is a college town, and college students are not exactly noted for being early birds. It is a thing I have come to appreciate, even if I have not always availed myself of it as I perhaps ought to do.

Yesterday and today, though, it has not been the case that the mornings have been quiet. Even now, I hear the metallic buzzing of lawnmowers at work, cutting the grass while the dew is still wet upon it. While I know that outside work is best done before the heat of the day sets in, and I expect that today will be quite warm, I am surprised--and not entirely pleasantly--to hear it happening in the area surrounding Sherwood Cottage. It is not a thing that has much happened before, so I have grown accustomed to not having to put up with it in the slightly more than a year I have been here. (I enjoyed Don Quixote, by the way.) That I have to put up with it now is a bit of an annoyance.

I suppose that I am guilty of curmudgeonly nimbyism in being annoyed; there is something of an old man's "get off my lawn" about my thought (and written?) wish that the mowers would take their work somewhere that is not in my backyard. It is not a flattering supposition, of course; while I am not at all averse to being called a curmudgeon ("I had fun once. It was terrible."), the rank hypocrisy of the nimbyism is something I ought to know better than to indulge. It is the same kind of impulse that calls for homeless shelters--somewhere else, or that wants to have bike paths and playgrounds put in--over there. It is not helpful, and it is not good of me to have it.

The realization means that the thought will not drive action. I am not going to charge out onto my front porch to rant at those who ply their trades in the growing morning. I am not even going to wallow in the annoyance at them. I have gotten it out of myself, to my benefit. And there is another, better focus for my vexation in any event; I will attend to it. The cats are about their shenanigans again, running around and making noise (although not every noise). There are people in Sherwood Cottage still asleep at this point, and I am not a safe base in some feline game of tag...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I noted in passing yesterday, and in another place, that yesterday afternoon marked half a year of Ms. 8 being in the waking world. Six months ago today was the announcement of it in this webspace. It is true, as I noted expecting the next day, that the novelty of diaper changing has worn off. (Oh, how it has worn off!) It is also true, as I noted not much later, that there have been...adjustments made against the presence of the baby. Responsibility for the young life of little Ms. 8 still commands notice as it sits on my wife's shoulders and mine; it is not a light burden, and it is not one that can be set aside for a moment. Indeed, it heightens a number of other concerns; money was an issue before her, and it is very much an issue now. (Donations are, unfortunately, not tax deductible.) The balance of working time and the necessary and appropriate care of an infant is both finer and more nuanced. Even after six months, acclimation to the changes is incomplete--and I think it will not be for a long time, yet, if ever.

Still, despite the fetid stink that comes from my daughter's nethers at times, and despite the ear-piercing wailing she has mastered, I love her and fiercely. Seeing her grow (admittedly more in heft than in height--but she was born a long baby--and yet more in mind) has been a source of amazement. Watching her go from more or less wholly inert to flailing about to grabbing things and flipping herself over has been strangely gratifying (it is not as if I made it happen), and seeing her toothless smile light up whenever she sees me does more than flatter. I know that she will soon start to say such things as "No" and "I hate you," and I know that worse will come out of her mouth. (If she is anything like her father, much worse will come out of her mouth.) I know that other problems will arise; they inevitably do. But I also know that there will be other benefits come from it--and I know I sound the typical everyparent to say it, threatening to rattle off platitudes at which my child-free friends cringe.

I will not do so here. I try not to be "that guy" who can do nothing but talk about his kid; I know how annoying that can be to those who have or want no kids of their own. But I am happy to have my little girl, and if I do write about her every so often here, I do not think I can be held much to blame.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


This is my first day off in the new term; I am scheduled to teach Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only. It is the kind of thing that contributes to ideas of those who teach as lazy and shiftless; primary and secondary school teachers "only work nine months out of the year," and those teaching at the college level "only work half the week"--and then "only a few hours each day." Setting aside the entirely typical and representative experience of those who work at multiple colleges in an attempt to scrape together enough money to get to eat and which makes the "only" inaccurate in more instances than not, the "only" is a dangerous thing. It bespeaks a lack of understanding of what it is that those who teach do--and it refuses to understand that the scholar's job is not only to teach, but also to uncover new knowledge to be able to teach.

I can offer myself as an example, since I have managed to embody both the "summers off" and "half-days for half the week" this year. (While in The City, I got neither, as I often taught five days a week and all year long.) While I may not have had classes to teach during the summer, I conducted a number of private tutorials, including some with a man completing a doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering, so I was still working. I also wrote well over a hundred pages for freelance clients, so I was still working (and repudiating Shaw's adage about those who teach yet again). I further continued my academic work, curating Travels in Genre and Medievalism (to which I mean to return in short order) and drafting a chapter for a scholarly book as well as papers for presentation and perhaps publication, so I was still working. And that was while taking care of Ms. 8 while her mother, my most wonderful wife, worked. But I was lazy since I did not work at my "regular" job.

I am still lazy, of course, because I am not scheduled to work today. It matters not that I will knock out more freelance work, or that I might draft another essay for the Tales after Tolkien Society, or that I will review course textbooks and outside materials so that I can return to the classroom on Wednesday ready to offer the students a path to understanding that they would never have known to seek before. It matters not that I may well put together other outside writing so that others have things to read and bases from which to generate their own greater understandings, or that I am likely to work more on papers that will go out into the world and increase the sum total of available human knowledge. It matters not that I will stay home so that Ms. 8 can stay safe and well fed as her mother works. Oh, no, I am not in the classroom today, and so none of what I do matters, because it is not seen.

And it does not matter that my example is not exactly unusual. It does not matter that I am but one of many who act in such a way, week after week and year after year. It does not matter that those of us who teach spend much of our time outside the classroom working to teach better, and that those of us who work for colleges spend much of our time away from the classroom working to help humanity know more. We are not where we can be seen, so we must not be doing any work that actually matters...

Monday, August 18, 2014


The new term at the university where I teach begins today. My own formal duties do not begin until  ten o'clock this morning, when I am required to sit for office hours, but I will likely be at the office ahead of time. I usually am; I have made no secret of being a morning person, and there is always more than needs to be done than there is time in which to do it. And I will likely be increasingly nervous as I move towards my first class meetings today. I believe I have noted before that there is always some apprehension in facing new classes and new sets of students. I feel the truth of it this morning, to be sure.

I know that I have nothing about which to worry. I need not prove anything to the students in my classes; I am supposed to have already done so in earning a doctorate, and I have continued to do so in conference presentations and the various publications I have gotten done and into the world. (I know I need to do more of them. I am working on it.) I know that I have nothing to fear from the students. I know also that all I need to do is offer them opportunities for learning and guidance; I cannot make them accept the offerings, and I ought not to try to do so. It will frustrate me and likely make no impact upon those I would try to force.

The thought occurs that it is very much like the aikido from whose practice I have been too long away. (I unfortunately cannot resume it in the near future, given scheduling conflicts. I cannot "make the time" when doing so would leave without care those who depend upon me.) Uke can only be led along if uke engages; if uke does not engage, then there is no situation in which the technique need be applied or, ethically, can be applied. In either event, the end result is harmony--or ought to be; I have never done what I needed to do to be as good an aikidoist as I ought to have been. And that is not the fault of my teachers, but of their poor student.

I and the many of my colleagues who will be returning to the work of the classroom today and in the next few weeks have to keep that last in mind. Ultimately, no teacher can reach students who are unwilling to be reached--and there are students who are, for whatever reason, unwilling to be reached. Some have very good reasons, actually, and I do not seek to heap aspersion upon them. Others do not, but heaping aspersion upon them does not good. Better to focus instead on those students who want to learn (while not shutting out any--but there is a difference between opening the door and chasing people to beg them to enter it). It is from those students that the things hoped for will most likely come.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


I recently received a copy of Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin (ISBN 978-0-553-39242-5 and US$28.00 in hardcover), the first book of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy and a continuation of the Realm of the Elderlings stories begun in 1996's Assassin's Apprentice. It traces later adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer as he lives for many years in the guise of Tom Badgerlock, Holder of Withywoods--a gentry position as a caretaker for a high-ranking noble's estate. In the course of the novel, he and his wife, Molly, experience a miraculous late birth and the unusual consequences of it, as well as the tragic return of an old friend from a faraway land. Compelling and accessible, the book shows that the trilogy it begins has great promise as a successor to the Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies.

That said, there are some problems in the text. At several points, the actions taken by the eponymous protagonist seem out of line with his character, as demonstrated in the six books which narrate his earlier life. For example, his inability to maintain upkeep on Withywoods even before the unfortunate events there (that understandably distract him) seems at odds with his long life with Hap near Forge from the beginnings of the Tawny Man series. His inattention to certain other characters is also...odd for him. Too, there is the issue of Bee; she seems to be the product of particular bloodlines discussed in earlier Elderlings books. In itself, this is not a problem--but her full sister, Nettle, shows none of the traits of that descent despite having the same parentage. A Punnett square could demonstrate why this occurs, of course, but the descriptions of those bloodlines in the earlier texts seems to indicate that the confluence of them operates outside normal genetics.

Even so, Fool's Assassin is an engaging read. Hobb continues to use the first-person retrospective narration that typifies the novels dealing with FitzChivalry Farseer--although there is an interweaving of narration from another character that came as a bit of a shock initially. Hobb also continues to use the device of opening chapters with snippets from in-milieu documents, offering context for the narrative and extending the correspondence of her Tolkienian sub-creation to the readerly primary world. (The device extends at least as far back as Asmiov's opening the chapters of many of his Foundation novels with quotations from the Encyclopedia Galactica. Its deployment embeds Hobb thoroughly in the conventions of traditional fantasy and science fiction, making her departures from those generic norms more acceptable to readers accustomed to them.) The nuancing of distinctions among the gentry--although not as much among the nobility--of the Six Duchies is also helpful; one of the common features of mainstream fantasy literature is the relative non-distinction within broad social strata (noted here), and the inclusion of more detail in that line helps to make the milieu more authentic. Scholars will have much to say about the text, and more general readers will doubtlessly find it worth the time it takes to read; what more can be asked of a text?

Saturday, August 16, 2014


It is the last weekend before the next term of teaching begins, and I am somewhat stunned by the whirlwind of activity that has happened and is about to happen. Much has been done, and much is yet to be done, and I am concerned that I will not be able to attend to all of it.

I am not entirely worried about the teaching itself. While I am teaching a class I have not taught before, it is in a mode with which I am quite comfortable; literature classes can usefully follow patterns, so that even if I am not wholly familiar with any one set that I will be teaching (in this case, general literature, insofar as there is such a thing), I am at ease with the manner of teaching. I read quickly, and so I will not be in too much trouble if I have to cover new materials quickly.

I *am* somewhat concerned for the other things that I get to do. I am at work on a number of projects, including the freelance work, and I worry that the time my teaching requires--not only in the classroom but in preparation and grading--will detract from them (and, in the case of the freelancing, the money earned from them). Too, with the beginning of the new term comes the beginning of the job search season, as colleges and universities will be publishing their upcoming openings in short order. The job search eats time and money, as well, and teaching (even at the college level for those of us in the academic humanities) offers little enough of both.

The situation is familiar to many, I know. Who does *not* feel that there is too much to do and not enough time in which to do it? When is there ever *really* enough time? But I am not whining. I have no intention of simply stopping and letting all things pass. I have *every* intention of doing the things that need doing *because* they need doing. That I take the time to voice such worries as I have is more a means for me to cast them out of myself than anything else. On the page, they no longer gnaw so much at the insides of my mind. Holding things in does me no good; I have never been the kind of person who can repress a thought or feeling, tamp it down until it is ignored. When I have tried, I have not found peace or serenity or even a working acceptance of things; what I have found is deep and distracting annoyance, and I cannot encase it in a soothing pearl.

In truth, I doubt how well works holding things in. That a problem is not admitted or is not named does not mean it is not a problem, and pain long endured becomes a norm that does not receive the examination it ought to. Things were not better; they were simply less open. It smacks to me of deception--and is not lying a wrong thing to do?

Friday, August 15, 2014


I face the straits having passed many waters
The drums beat and the oars dip and pull
Shimmering as the ship I helm glides upon the whale-road
But the stretch of it here is desolate
For ahead lurks a horror of tearing fangs and baying howls beneath a female torso

I brace myself against it
Knowing not only that I must enter the straits
But that I must enter that horror
Masculine penetration into the gendered feminine
And the hounds will seek to rend me as I do
Even as they know I must be there

It is not the first such consummation I have faced
I bear the scars of earlier dogs' teeth
And there are nights I wake from dreams of their howls
Knowing I must answer them
Knowing that no answer will suffice

Already they scrape at my hull.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Questions command

They impose upon people to reply
And they often have the effect desired
When spoken strongly and clearly
But they misfire at times
Causing instead silence or anger unforeseen

They impose upon the echoes people leave behind
Forcing the afterimages of those who have lived
To yield up new knowledge and understanding
Or else working upon the traces left
By people yet living

They impose upon the forces of creation
Demanding answers from the unfeeling infinite
And the infinitesimal
And getting them even if slowly
Allowing changes to happen

Those who ask are those who utter incantation
Magic words that work magic in the world and on the world
We are all of us theurges and thaumaturges
Wizards and witches and sorcerers and such
And perhaps some of us will find the right questions to ask

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I sometimes attend to things before working on this webspace...

My work as a freelance writer continues, fortunately. Among the many tasks I do in that regard is write up books, reading through them as I am trained to do and providing reviews, summaries, and analyses of them. It is work to which I am well suited, and it pays well enough per the book written up, so I find that I enjoy it a fair bit as a working person. I also enjoy it as a reader, not only because it represents a way for me to get paid to read (which delights me), but also because it pushes me to read outside what I would normally read.

This is not to say, of course, that I do not "sully" myself with "low" reading. I have given evidence in this webspace that I read webcomics, comedy websites, and genre fiction, none of which carries any particular prestige in the academy or the prevailing cultural threads at work in the United States. More, I have directly engaged them (and will again; I have a book on order that I will read and comment upon, although perhaps the comments will be in another venue than this). And I do so in my scholarship, so that I am not exercising a guilty pleasure in doing so; I am not "slumming" in them, but celebrate them and embrace them.

Even so, my readings tend to be along certain lines. I do read quite a bit in the canon, yes, and I do read quite a bit of scholarship (when I remember to do so). But my pop culture readings have not typically run to police procedurals, detective fiction, and young-adult texts--not because of disdain (as anything that gets people reading has to count in some way as a social good) but because of non-contact. Aside from coursework, I have not often run into said genres; I spend my (too little discretionary) money on the things I enjoy most. It is sensible, I think, that I do so.

The freelancing work has obliged me to broaden my readings. Doing so has the effect of making me more aware of what is going on outside the section of the world I normally occupy, the basement or lobby of the ivory tower. It helps attune me to what folks who "really" work for a living read (when they read fiction) and what they give to their children--whom I will meet in the years to come. Thus I have some insight into who and what they are, for the choices people make about entertainment are suggestive of their personae. The stories are more than just stories.

I am reminded of the value of outside study once again, not just for those who have degrees in languages, but for all. Doing the reading that others do offers insight into those others. Insight into those others helps promote mutual understanding. Mutual understanding helps reduce problems. Reducing problems is a good thing. Or so I have been led to believe...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A friend of mine pointed out The Guardian's 8 August 2014 blog piece "Rogeting: Why 'Sinister Buttocks' Are Creeping into Students' Essays." (The "traditional" grammarian in me wants to point out that is should be "Is Creeping," since the phrase "Sinister Buttocks" is labeled as a phrase and thus as a singular item. The quotation marks serve to make it one thing. But that is something of an aside.) The piece is a mocking take on the plagiaristic practice of copying a text over and then changing words to some of their synonyms in the hopes of thwarting plagiarism-detection software or the eyes of vigilant instructors. The piece highlights the ludicrousness of the practice through offering examples of it at its most humorous, noting both that the practice leads to inarticulate nonsense on the page and that it leads to something that sounds much like expected business-speak. As a piece of satire, it works well--for those already inclined to think plagiarism a bad thing.

Not all do, of course. Obviously, some think it an acceptable practice, or they would not do it, and the article would have had no cause to be. Also, ideas of what does and does not count as plagiarism are in flux, as I have discussed repeatedly. (I tend to reject the idea of full freedom of use; I work at much of what I release into the world, and I would like to benefit from that work less ephemerally than the work alone allows. It will help me get to eat and to feed my daughter.) And I am sure that the question comes up for some who look at Rogeting of how those who do it cannot see the folly of the practice. Do they not know that what they do is wrong? Do they not know that the words on the page are incoherent drivel, rendered so by the multiple denotations of the words for which synonyms are found and the connotations of the synonyms deployed? The results are laughable--or would be did they not transgress as they do.

The answer to such questions, of course, is "no." Leaving aside the issue of "wrongness" for reasons noted above, the issue of incoherence merits attention. In my experience, students do not often review their work. (The assignment sequences in my composition classes call for multiple drafts, some of which I examine. Many students change nothing from draft to draft. They then wonder why their grades suffer.) This means that they do not read back over what they have written to see or hear if it works well, if it is both euphonious and sensible. More, many students operate with an...inaccurate idea of what is euphonious in the context for which they write. (As I may have noted before, although I cannot be sure,) I have known students to think that academic writing has to be a certain way, to use the biggest possible words to be able to sound as intelligent as it needs to be. This leads to what I call the Oswald Bates phenomenon, something akin to malapropism and not unlike the results of Rogeting. Those who engage in the practice likely think the text is improved by it, made to sound smarter through the use of "higher" diction. And I do not think it is an issue limited to students...

Monday, August 11, 2014


Welcome to the college. May I take your order, please?
Why, yes. I'll have some of that and maybe one of these.
We're here to take your order, folks, and give you years of ease
Because we're just the help, you see, and here are your degrees.

We know we offer services that you can get online,
So we have to give you things to make it seem the time
You spend at school is not a waste, that it's not pantomime--
Except that in the seeming-making we serve in fact to prime

The students for sedation through fun and games and such.
It is unimportant that they do not learn too much
Of things outside the workplace, the humanistic touch,
So long as grades come freely and degrees come in a rush.

We give you what you wanted, or what you said you did.
We did not argue with you when instead of class, you hid
In bottles and in parties. We still just passed you, kid,
And now you've got the fine results of your own college bid.

We're here to make it easy, folks. We're here to make it fun.
We're here to educate the folks, but, really, only one
Of these can be the focus now. There's not enough to run
A program that addresses all for each and every one.

Still, welcome to the college. May I take your order, please?
We have a wide selection of a number of degrees.
The ones that have job prospects, well, you'll want to look at these,
For surely that's the biggest thing that anybody sees.

Working is the point of this, the main thing, after all.
You get the piece of paper and you, quick, get on the ball
Making money to repay the price for walking down the hall.
But you'll not need what we teach here. Just the paper's all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I sometimes sleep in...

The term does not start tomorrow, but orientation activities for it do, and I must attend them. I have managed to get them scheduled such that I am not on for the full, long haul; I will still be breaking off to take care of Ms. 8 while her mother works. It should still be okay, though. I have taught one of the two courses assigned me before, and the other is a literature class that I ought to be able to teach without trouble. The paperwork ought to be easily enough done, and next Sunday morning, I will be staring down the last day before the term begins. If things go as they ought to go, I will be resting up, possibly sleeping in again, and enjoying a last day with family before the work of the classroom begins once again in earnest.

I say "in earnest" because it never really stops, even if the intensity diminishes somewhat. While I had no classes to teach this summer, others did, and even I spent much time doing the kind of work that I will expect my students to do. The freelancing and conference travel thus serve to keep me embedded in classroom practice in addition to offering me more money and opportunities to meet new people. The ongoing reading, which has admittedly not continued as I would have preferred it to do, has also helped equip me for continued work. I study and conduct research so that I can better learn my materials, theoretically equipping me to teach more and better. (But not more better. That's a whole different thing.)

That many do not believe such things is obvious. Protestations that teachers "get summers off" and that professors bury themselves in esoteric research that nobody outside their narrow fields will read--if even those within them will do so--abound. The former, of course, rankles particularly when motions are made to switch to year-round schooling and are shouted down. Can a person be blamed for "not working" when there is not work to do? Not that teachers are "not working" over the summers...And as to the latter, there is this, as well as another post or two that I cannot seem to find at the moment but which I recall arguing that because we do not fault physicians for writing to other physicians we ought not to fault academics from writing to other academics.

But while the beliefs of many are demonstrably wrong, they remain in force and in place. They are resistant to change; those who hold them are often unwilling or unable to set them aside in the face of new evidence. That evidence is usually condemned as irrelevant or merely anecdotal (even as irrelevant or merely anecdotal evidence is used to bolster wrong-headed ideas--or circular reasoning is). The fight against wrong must still be fought, however, even if it appears as if it is against Surtr or Fenrir at the end of the Fimbulwinter and those who fight it stand in place of the Æsir...

Saturday, August 9, 2014


For the Prince of Fantasists
The road goes ever on and on
But for me
For now
The road goes not

A trip is done
And home has welcomed me again
I am back in the place where I belong
Ready again for my mossy cover

It is a soft and comforting blanket
Cushioning my hardness
Easing my rest
Although I know it eats away at me
My staying put leading to my doom

Yet the stones that roll
Dash themselves against others
Lose their edges
End up smooth and less than they were
Faster and with more violence

Friday, August 8, 2014


My wife, Ms. 8, and I will be returning today to Sherwood Cottage from central Iowa, where we have been this week. It is the place where my father grew up and where his mother and several of my cousins and other relations yet live. Being there for a simple visit, rather than for a funeral or a wedding, is not a bad experience. The weather has been quite good, and the food to be had is plentiful and of high quality. (Visit the Amana colonies. Have the pork chop. Drink Millstream.) And a bit of not having to run at full tilt was not unwelcome.

Such am I, however, that even amid the time with family and at the table, my mind was much on the work I have to do and upon The Work that calls to me always. I suppose it makes of me a poor family man that my attention, except for bouts of taking care of Ms. 8, was so much divided. (And even the care of my daughter was not so intensive. Great-grandmothers and aunts do wonders.) Perhaps it points to deeper problems altogether. Or perhaps it is simply a mark my studies have placed upon me. It matters little.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not belong too far out in the countryside. Iowa farmlands can hardly be called nature, as they are quite settled and as bent to human need and desire as anything not paved over can be, but they are very much not the comfortingly enclosed book-lined walls in which I thrive. They are needful and worthy--I am not the sort of scholar who holds in contempt those who work with their hands--but they are not for me to walk. They are not for me to till. I am not so optimistic as to do well upon them.

That is what seems to me to be present in much of my family, more connected to farming country and agriculture than I ever have been: optimism. They have in large measure a quiet assurance that all will be well, and I have long since found myself unable to muster it for more than a few brief moments at a time. They seem to have done so from the womb, so I must wonder what it is in my makeup that vitiates against doing so. Whence it comes, I know not, but I have to wonder nonetheless if I am missing something through not having it. I have to wonder if I am missing something from not having bidden things grow from the ground and had my bidding answered...

Thursday, August 7, 2014


A friend of mine not long ago spoke to the idea of cursive writing in schools, heaping aspersions upon it. When I talked about the issue with him later, he admitted that his reaction to the endeavor was irrational, although he maintains there is no real reason to teach cursive in schools--except perhaps as an art function, taken as an elective. This is somewhat strange, because he also voices the opinion that education has to be about more than simply "the practical."

I necessarily agree with the last part; the academic humanities, except insofar as they are viewed as service courses (analogized by another friend of mine--yes, I do have more than one--to bran and fiber: needed for health but not usually thought of as pleasant), are often among the "extra" materials excised from curricula in the name of "efficiency." Reductions to narrow views of the practical, then, threaten my ability to secure a livelihood for those I have to support, and I am necessarily averse to such things. It is already enough of a challenge to keep food on the table and a roof overhead. And I agree that there is no "practical" reason to make concerted efforts to teach cursive; most people will not have to write in it, and they will likely not have to read it. Even those who will have to write with pen in hand are likely to do so only on forms that require block printed capitals--characters not unlike the runes of old. (I am a medievalist, after all.) But I am not nearly so averse to teaching cursive as is my friend (although I agree about the tyranny through which cursive was often taught--but if that is an argument against the subject being taught, then none should be taught, for there are despots in all disciplines).

I find cursive to be of benefit to me, even if my pen-hand is atrocious as it has often been accused of being. The motions used to write in script differ from those of typing or of block printing; their use triggers different parts of the brain, or does so in different ways. This leads to different patterns and types of thought, or so it seems to me it ought. And I am aware that, even with so poor a pen-hand as I have, my writing in script connects me with the long tradition of literacy. (That my pen-hand looks much like the products of scriptoria is entirely accidental but entirely fortuitous.) Part of what a system of schooling a people supports is meant to do is transmit a root idea of who those people are; it has to pass along a sense of history of the people. Those of us who teach have a duty to get that idea right, to ensure that the history taught is as close as can be to the history that was. But we also have a duty to pass on an idea of what the people aspire to be, and it remains in many places the case that the people want to be the kinds of people who can do all things with grace and aplomb--and cursive is, when it works well, far more elegant than blocky print.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


It should be obvious that I am doing better about being up when I ought to be. For much of the time away, I had been letting myself sleep in; I feel that it hampered me unduly. The problem is at least in the process of being corrected.

As I am sitting and typing, to change the subject completely, I notice that the way I am doing so is not at all what my own poor instructors taught me to do. (I call them poor not necessarily because they were only marginally competent in their jobs, but because they had the profound misfortune of having me in their classes before old age mellowed me out--and they had rooms full of others very much like me. I shudder to think of the situation from the front of the classroom.) I am working more or less with two fingers on each hand, with the occasional strike from my ring and pinky fingers and thumbs, rather than typing with all ten digits. For all that, though, I still type nearly eighty words per minute. (I test regularly to be sure. I also ten-key at something approaching 8000 keystrokes per hour. Valuable job skills.

I am forced to consider how much else I do otherwise than my teachers taught, and so I am forced also to consider how much my own students do otherwise than I have taught them--and how much they *will* do otherwise. And that threatens, for a moment, to make me doubt that I or any of my colleagues do anything that approaches any good in the world. As teaching is often understood, we do not if our students go away from what we gave them. (Some will asset that, as teaching is often understood, we *never* do any good in the world. Note the attacks on educational systems in general.) But teaching as it is often understood is not actually teaching, or at least is far from being the whole of it. For teaching is often regarded as being the dissemination of information alone, something I follow others in addressing here as being an inaccurate view. It is far more; in its better , forms, it is the promotion of habits of mind and the willingness to deploy those habits in situations in which learner find themselves later on. That is, teaching is supposed to equip students to think along certain paths later--and it will of course be the case that someone following a path from a point other than its earlier beginning will each a different end. If I walk a mile north and a mile west, I will end in a different place leaving from Sherwood Cottage than I will from Bedfordside Garden. So it is with teaching; my colleagues and I teach from our own perspectives and understanding, as cannot be avoided and should not, and we lay out the paths w use to find new knowledge. Our students start from where their own roads cross ours, so even if they move forward from us, they will reach different places from us.

That is as it ought to be, for it is only in that that we find new things, and we need them. What we have had so far has not really worked.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


The thought occurred to me a few days ago that there are a number of companies that have made much about their ostensible following of Christian principles in their business practices, remaining closed on Sundays (despite Jesus saying that the work should be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the day of the week, here) and engaging in other practices because of deeply held beliefs in they dictates of Christian Scripture. Perhaps I am late in arriving at the idea, but it seems to me if such companies are so dedicated to following the inerrant Word of God as revealed in Scripture, I and others ought to be able to get from them what any company actually most desires.

It seems to me that Jesus said, here, that people ought to give to those who ask them. So I ask such companies as have made much of being Christian, that have gone to the Supreme Court of the United States of America to prove the sincerity of their Christian beliefs, to enact the truth of their beliefs--I ask for the sum of US$100,000 (after taxes, so with whatever additional monies would be required to allow me to take away the stated sum) to be paid me in a single lump installment. You may rest assured that I will use it to fulfill other dicta of Christian principles, looking to have my debts forgiven and to place me into a position from which I can do as Christ bade and forgive the debts others owe to me. (Seriously, I really will only use it to clear such things as my student loan debts and my wife's.) After all, if you are going to make such a public matter of your faith (ahem), you might as well do so in a way that helps people at the micro as well as the macro level (because I am certain that you already do a lot of charitable giving to groups that help other people not have to worry about being *actually* persecuted--beaten and killed--for who and what they are from their birth).

Those of you who have been reading what I write, I thank you. And I wonder if you might not also have such requests to make of such wonderfully, publicly Godly Christian folks and companies--worry not, for if they are as they claim to be and committed to following the teachings of the Nazarene, then they will do as they are bidden do by the very words of their one true Lord and Savior and give unto those of us who ask them. I am only sorry that it took me so long to remember my Scriptures...

Monday, August 4, 2014


I do not think that I have made it a secret that I do a fair bit of freelance writing. It is usually through a clearinghouse of sorts, and the orders that come in through it are often for write-ups of schools and programs. In most cases, some brief summary information about the college or university and the specific unit offering the program is followed by a short note about the degree and a list of the major courses for it, and the client is happy. (Truly; most of my client ratings are across-the-board "excellent.") It is not terribly difficult work (although finding program information sometimes takes a bit of doing; some schools are not exactly forthcoming about their curricula), although it is somewhat tedious at times, and it is time-consuming.

One thing that I have learned from doing the work is that many degree programs are markedly similar in their offerings. Course titles may vary somewhat, as may course sequences, but the content of many degrees with the same name is more or less the same. What strikes me as being of interest, however, is how the various schools gather and divide the materials of those courses. Examples from my own field illustrate the point. (I am hesitant to name schools and programs here. I am not sure why, but using hypotheticals seems the thing to do.) One program in English might require majors to take six sophomore-level British literature courses: medieval, early modern, eighteenth century, Romantic, Victorian, and twentieth- and twenty-first century. Another might require two or three, instead. Yet another might divide the medieval at 1066, or roughly into Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. Each can be justified easily. Each will offer different things; narrower periodic action allows for deeper investigation, while broader allows for a more diachronic view that highlights continuity and change across the periods. (It also highlights the problems of periodization, which is a discussion for another time entirely.) Other programs function similarly; it matters in an MBA program, for instance, whether micro- and macroeconomics are taught in tandem or as separate courses. It matters in an MPH program whether biostatistics and epidemiology are yoked together or studied individually. It matters in an MFT program whether religious counseling is emphasized as a discrete subject or incorporated into others.

I suppose the point being made is that there are reasons that course sequences are set up as they are. Even if the materials among them are more or less the same across programs, the specific divisions alter the way in which that information is provided and, since curricula are about far more than the simple delivery of information, the ways in that information is received and treated by those in the programs. The reasons may not always be the best in terms of pedagogy (I am put in mind of some of the public speaking classes I have taught), but they are there, and they perhaps ought to be considered as programs of study are selected.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I travel quite a bit, anymore, particularly to conferences. This year has been particularly active in that regard. As a result, I have had occasion to think about how I get ready for trips, and on mornings like this that see me awake early enough to enjoy the quiet of the pre-dawn hours, I have occasion to put some of those musings in a form that works well on the blog.

When I pack for travel, I pack light. If I am taking a five-day trip, for instance, I pack five full changes of clothes, perhaps six. (I see the value in having a spare, just in case.) If I know there will be some kind of fancy thing to do, I pack a good change of clothes, as well, but it is usually t-shirts and jeans, or sweaters and the like if the weather is cooler. Nothing fancy, nothing special.

From what I have heard from others, I am not unusual among men in doing so. I know men who are clothes-horses, of course; I lived in The City for several years, and even outside it, there are many who remember ZZ Top's dictum. But I know many others who will happily wear the same clothes day after day, and who have many iterations of the same outfit as a compromise between doing so and wearing clean clothes each day. I think I am closer to being the latter than the former.

I usually pack for a trip the night before I make it, and where I leave my suitcase (why do I call it that when I never use it for a suit?) for the night does say something about me. ("There's that liberal arts and academic humanities thing again, picking things apart for meaning that really don't have any meaning in them," says an annoying voice within me that I hear too often from outside myself, as well.) It tends to sit in front of my main bookcase in the living room, whether at Bedfordside Garden in the Best of the Boroughs or at Sherwood Cottage where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. There is an old idea that leaving what needs to be taken in a prominent place ensures that it will not be forgotten. (It also increases the likelihood of it being tripped over in the dark.)  If I am following that in my placement, it says that my bookcases form a prominent place for me--which I suppose is sensible enough, given what I do. It is yet another way in which I orient my life around my reading that I do such a thing.

I do not think, though, that I can make so neat and safe an assertion about how others I know pack. My wife, for instance, cannot be said to be bound up nearly so neatly in where she leaves her stuff before leaving as I am. I have to wonder about my (lack of) complexity as a person, then, that so much of my action speaks to a single focus. And insofar as the kind of reading I do serves as a means to understand the self, it is something that other people ought to do.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I have had cause to think abut family dynamics of late. I am reminded of the times I have been told of the perception that the "traditional" WASPy middle-class family does not have a strong sense of family, that the relationships among cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and grandparents and grandchildren are not as integral for them as for some other groups. (The names of those groups vary; I have heard it from many people.) And I have to admit that my own experience largely supports the assertion; I grew up largely disconnected from my broader extended family, and even from large parts of the more local relations. Some of the latter has to do with age differences--many of those cousins are a decade or more older than I am--and some with the simple facts of personality differences. Some, though, is the hermit-like demeanor of many of my relations; they like to be off by themselves, away from others. It is an inclination that I share in large measure.

Some of the divergence is a matter of work, though. I know that I have moved several times to follow paychecks. From the Central Texas where I grew up and where my parents and brother still live to Hub City to The City and Bedfordside Garden to Sherwood Cottage where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, I have left where my family lives to make my professional way. Even now, I am a day's drive away from where I grew up, but it is the closest to where I grew up that I have lived since 2005. My parents live in the Hill Country for much the same reason: following work. It is why they left the Midwest of their youth and moved south. (Yes, I know that both they and I followed love--they filial, I romantic--amid the moves. But even those moves were bound up in working.)

It seems to me that the call of the paycheck--more generously, the focus upon the craft embedded in employment--has much muted the voices of blood and affection, which underpins the oft-heard complaints of moral degradation among "kids these days" at this point. But I have to consider also that those voices have not been as loud in the ears of others as they have in mine; while some may lament the "loss" of "family values" as indicated by the increasing atomization of bloodlines, there have to be some instances in which it is to be praised. There is more freedom to leave bad situations now than there was in the past, when "we fixed what was broken instead of throwing it away"; I do not think so much work was done to fix problems as ignore them, which does not make them disappear. (And given how much fixing costs, much more than replacement, and over a longer period, the economics of such decisions make sense--for those who need that kind of argument made.) Again, THIS IS NOT HOW IT IS FOR ME. But it is how it is for others, and so even if I may lament my own separation and try to bridge it across a shifting distance, I cannot say that it is always an ill. And I do not think other ought to, either.

Friday, August 1, 2014


I have been awake for about an hour
No alarm rang to roust me
A different call, oddly situated to be from a mother
Shook me from slumber
And once I was up
I decided to stay that way

Whether it will do me any good to be awake this morning
I do not know
Yesterday would have been a good day to do it
Yesterday had tasks for me to face
And I faced them
But I am not so certain of today

I never am
I think none of us really are
We cannot be
Yesterday happened
And even in cyclical time it has passed
The wheel turned on
While today has yet to happen
And the rocks the wheel will hit are not yet seen

Fools in writing sometimes think they see
But I am not such a person
For while I may be a fool
I am not The Fool
And I write more than I am written
So far as I know

I will have to have a talk with my author