Friday, October 31, 2014


Insert typical Halloween message here.

One of the things that has come along with fatherhood is a reconsideration of how the holidays can work and ought to work. (It is something I have mentioned before.) Since today is a holiday, and it is one I mark, I find myself considering those things once again.

Ms. 8 has a costume; she will, fittingly enough, dress as an octopus. Her step-grandmother and mother made the costume for her, and I have seen her in it (but not yet today); she is remarkably cute, and I do not normally register cute or see it as a good thing. For my daughter, though...

Aside from that, though, I am not thinking any new thoughts. I am rehashing ideas I have already had, and I am not finding in them any more comfort than I did before. I am finding no resolution in them. I can, though, take some comfort in the idea that I am at least not appropriating other cultures in my daughter's costumery (and I will not be costuming myself; I am a bit old and curmudgeonly for such things anymore, and Ms. 8 will not know whether I do or not). While I may be participating in appropriation by engaging even as much as I am (although the argument could be made that I am a participant in the successor cultures to those being appropriated, which would mitigate the error of appropriation), I am at least not making mock of the more overtly and directly oppressed in doing so; if I err, the error is less than it could be. It may not be a thing to celebrate, but there is at least less mourning to attend upon it.

In other news, today was payday, which means that today was also bill-pay day. The pain of the latter cancels out the joy of the former, as it happens. I am caught up on expenses for the month, though; I get to have a car and a house, at least until December begins, and the lights will stay on a little longer. The increasingly autumnal weather, though, will be driving up utility costs soon, however much my wife and I weatherize Sherwood Cottage. (We have a better idea of how to do it this year than last, however, and thankfully.) More work will be in order, I think--if I can find it. (More freelancing will start tomorrow, which will help in the short term, but freelancing is not a thing on which I can depend, even if I have increasingly been doing so.)

Work on finding work and on The Work continues. I sent out applications yesterday and am poised to do another couple today (if I do not get bogged down in other things), and I posted a piece to Travels in Genre and Medievalism yesterday, too. It is a hopeful sign, I think, a reminder that I am still able to do the things I am called to do. If I could find a way to make a bit better a living off of them, though, I would not be averse to it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Things continue to return to whatever degree of normalcy they have at Sherwood Cottage. My lovely wife took care of much of the laundry that had accrued around our trip to the Texas Hill Country; while we were able to wash clothes there, we wore clothes during and after doing so, and Ms. 8 goes through her wardrobe rapidly. Too, the linens needed changing. I am slowly getting caught up on the grading that grew up in my absence and since my return, although it continues to swell up, as well; I have one set of exercises to assess from last week, then reports from three classes, a paper from the fourth, and on Monday, I will have papers coming in from the other three again. So I continue to be busy, as I think I have noted on occasion before.

The search for a more permanent position continues, as well. I think I have noted once or twice that, while my current job is not a bad one, it is bounded, and because it is bounded (although re-hiring seems to happen a fair bit), I cannot rest assured of its continuation. I am thus obliged to seek out positions that do offer me something like that assurance, jobs that are not strictly limited by term and which I can therefore expect to continue in for many years so long as I do a decent job or better at them. It is not too much to ask, I think, that after twelve years in college and approaching sixteen in the normal labor force that I would want to find a job to do that I can remain at and do for some time; it is not as if I am asking for a handout, after all.

I am familiar with the litany of responses. "Start your own business," for one, despite the fact that most new businesses fail, and fail spectacularly, in short order (and I cannot risk Ms. 8 for my failure), and despite the fact that I do not have 1) the capital to handle the startup costs involved in starting up a business, 2) the skillset to actually manage business affairs, and 3) enough understanding of people and their needs and desires to find something that I am equipped to do that they want to have done. "Start at the bottom and work your way up" is another, despite the fact that there is almost no possibility of promotion from "the bottom" (when has a fry-cook or a janitor become a fast-food CEO--or even middle management?) and despite the fact that I have already been at the bottom so that a return would be a downward step (if not, perhaps, a large one)--and, again, I am not willing to risk Ms. 8 on such a thing. "You're better off than many" is yet another, and it is true, but does that mean that I ought not to look for more and better? Ought I to be content with the way things are because others are not so fortunate as I have been?

Ought any of us?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


A year ago, I was musing on the weather at Sherwood Cottage. It seems appropriate to return to the subject now, for it is far more fall-like today than it was then. Then, it was in the 60s and rainy; now, it is in the upper 30s and clear. It may make it into the mid 70s--and it probably will--but that is a far cry from even a couple of days ago, when the temperature was far higher; it seemed that summer relinquished its hold upon this place where cowboys came home to defeat only reluctantly this time around. (If it has indeed let go; it may yet reach out again.) But today seems another day to stay inside and write.

I will not be so fortunate as to focus upon doing so today. Work continues, as it ever does, and the work that pays the bills preempts The Work that does as much as anything short of Ms. 8 to fulfill me; I have my classes to teach today. I already know what lessons I mean to offer, and I know that there will be others presented which I do not intend, for there always are. Still, I would rather plug away at the projects I have taken on than upon marking papers for return (of which I have sets from last week and from this, with another coming in today; I shall at least not want for things to occupy my time). Yet I cannot, not in good conscience. The bills must be paid.

With the end of this month and the beginning of the next approaching, I am considering upcoming events. I have every intention of voting on Tuesday, and I made sure my voter registration was in place so that I can do so. (The card is sitting on my desk even now.) I will not repeat last year's adventure, though; that is not going to happen, as I noted. And I will almost certainly not be doing National Novel Writing Month...again. There are too many other things going on for me to take on another project at the moment, even if it is one in which I am interested. (Someday, dammit.) But I will be working on other things...somehow.

For now, though, those "other things" are the work I do on behalf of my classes and my students. Many are ungrateful, looking askance on my efforts even though they have asked me to conduct them (college is voluntary, and in this part of the world, better-paying work is available than most of what college prepares students to face--if at the potential cost of having arms ripped off by juggernauts of machines). But there are a few who appear to give a damn, who seem actually to have some understanding of what goes into putting things together for them; I have to believe that they are worth the time and energy expended on their behalf. The alternative, of course, is not to be borne.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I am, by training, a specialist in English literature, particularly the literature of the late medieval period (say, 1300-1485 CE). When I contribute to human knowledge and understanding, I do so in that area, typically by looking at how what was written then is read and rewritten now. Yet when I am in the classroom, I am typically not positioned to be able to work with that material; more often than not, I am teaching writing. I have a fair bit of applied knowledge in that regard, certainly, having written much and read far more, but I do not have the kind of theoretical framework I really *ought* to have to do as well with that work as I feel I ought to do. (I read extensively to correct for that, but there is something to be found in formal instruction that I cannot pick up from my independent studies, a sense of security in the knowledge and practice that I have when talking about Arthur but not so much about ways to put words onto pages.)

In recent terms, I have taught a fair bit of technical writing, and it looks very much like I will be doing more of it in the upcoming term. The work is not difficult, really; I teach in a fairly rigorously structured program, and I have enough experience in it to allow me to do passably well in most cases. (It also helps me with my freelance work, and my freelance work helps with it.) And I am able to learn a great many things from the work my students do, which I appreciate. (I have noted something like this, I think.) Even so, it is not what I thought I would be teaching with degrees focused in literature, and it would seem to be a far cry, indeed, from the writings of the late medieval period (except for the occasional combat manual or discussion of tactics, which occasionally come up in my classes as examples for examination). As such, I feel something of a disjunction between what I ought to do and what I ought to do, if that makes any sense.

I have the hope that my broader teaching experience will help me land one of the teaching-heavy positions that is advertised; there are a fair number, and some of them are even full-time continuing spots greatly to be desired. Alternately, I hold out the hope that I may be able to parlay the experience of teaching technical writing into finding work as a technical writer, for I am aware that I may not be able to make a life in academia. I may need to find work elsewhere, and the years I have spent in the classroom may vitiate against my landing a "real" job--unless I can make the argument that between my work in technical writing (in the classroom and in freelancing) and other writing, I have a set of skills that is worth paying for and a body of experience that suits me to jobs in civil service or the private sector. But Shaw's adage is widely held to be true, and the fight against it is not at all an easy one to conduct, despite all efforts...

Monday, October 27, 2014


A thought has nagged at me for some time.

There is an association of writers and writerly activities such as the study and teaching of language and literature with cat ownership--if "ownership" is the right term to use with pets, generally, and cats in particular. I suffer from it ("suffer" because of the, ahem, "commentaries" they leave). So do many others who write or who are engaged with writing. And I have to wonder why it is so. For cats are notoriously independent and all too uncaring, doing such things as knocking over plates or eating underwear (as happens to one colleague), or pissing on carpets or books (the last particularly grievous to those who, like me, study writing). They do not come when called, they act dismissively in many cases (the three with which I live are somewhat exceptional, as visitors have noted). In short, they treat the writer and scholar as the rest of the world tends to treat the writer and scholar--and the writer and scholar complains of how the rest of the world acts.

Why, then, the association with cats?

I admit that the idea is not terribly well-formed in my mind. Part of me wants to put together a paper, which may or may not be serious, on the depiction of cats in association with writers and scholars; I am sure that there is material to consider. Pangur Bán is one example, certainly, and there are doubtlessly others to examine. That part of me, though, may merely be my scholarly bent coming to the fore; always, I want to do the work of putting together a paper, even though I have many others to which I need to attend already and insufficient time to attend to them all. It makes me something of a caricature of a scholar that with each encounter I think first of "How can I make that a paper?" rather than some other kind of engagement that many would suggest is more fulfilling than the purportedly distant and abstract, rarefied and perhaps reified treatment offered by an academic paper of whatever length. And they may well be right who would say such things.

The point is getting lost.

Perhaps it is the kind of topic that I could suggest to those students in my literature classes who search for topics on which to write, the treatment of cats in association with scholarship. Such a tactic is one I have seen deployed in classes I have taken; one of my own professors flatly admitted to me that he uses one assignment he gives his graduate students as a way to stay current in the scholarship in his field. It is something I do with my own students, albeit with less success, undergraduates being what they are. Still, if I want to tease out what is going on in anything that resembles a prevailing association of writers/scholars and cats, it is a thing I ought to consider. For if and when I see sufficient to support the idea that there *is* an association in popular culture, then I can work to plumb what it means that the association is present. It will help me to understand better, even if I never do write the paper that suggests itself...

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Oh, what a joy it is to have woken up in my own bed!

I doubt not that it can be guessed from the brief snippets I have posted in the past few entries, as well as the skipped day, that I have been away. I was, in fact, in the Texas Hill Country to present a paper at the South Central Modern Language Association conference (once again) and to visit family (since I was in the area). It was a good trip; the conference went well, with my paper being received much more favorably than I had anticipated and a colleague and me appointed to leadership positions at the next conference, which will be in Nashville. Seeing the family was also good, although, as noted, Ms. 8 did end up taking some kind of cold (and giving it to her father).

Even so, coming home is always a pleasure for me. Much as I love The Work and my people, I fare better when I am where I ought to be, in that place into which I have extended myself and made part of me, as I have discussed at least once. Knowing where things are without having to look for them and being able to call upon present resources without worry are things I appreciate. And, as I have noted, I construct my home-space as an externalization of myself, so that for me to be away from it is to have my being divided; to return to it is a repatriation of myself to myself, so that I feel more nearly whole. (I say "more nearly" because my wonderful Mrs. and Ms. 8 are both still away, and both of them have a part of me, as well.)

Glad as I am to be back at Sherwood Cottage, though, I realize that there is much for me to do to get things back to how they ought to be. The trip took me away for a week, so I will have much grading to do, beginning soon after I finish posting this piece. There is also freelance work for me to consider, and I am certain there are developments in my L5R RPG activities that will need attention that only I can provide. At the very least, I will not be bored; I have a surfeit of stuff to do. But that is a regular thing, as it happens; there are always many things to do, and rarely does the time suffice to them all. Particularly with a mild head cold...

Still, if I am to make the attempt to do all things for all people, I am better off doing so here in my home than elsewhere. I may not have *all* of what I need for The Work and the other work that supports it, but I have much of it, and I have the comfort in which to work swiftly, well, and long. And that having is not something for which I am ungrateful. Rather the opposite, in fact, is true.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Classes are canceled ahead of The Big Game
Because the students ought not to be distracted from
What really matters

The staff are still on duty
Professors are away
Gown yielding to town as eleven seek a first down
Diluted gladiatorial combat
More heavily armored
More extravagant
Less skilled
And audiences in the seats about the same

I am away
For another reason
And I find my throat is scratchy and my nose running
Nor am I the only one to find self so


Thursday, October 23, 2014


Ms. 8 did not sleep well last night, waking repeatedly. Some of her waking was due to having a wet diaper, which is rare for her; she usually does not have the problem of being wet in the night. But it does not account for all of her waking; I am unsure of the cause, but the effect is clear enough. I am aware of the interrupted and thus insufficient sleep, and I have no doubt that my wife will be similarly aware. It does not bode well for the day.

Still, things are reasonably good. I have been doing more or less well; such problems as I have been facing are of relatively small scope and so lie within my meager capabilities. The same is true of the annoyances that have presented themselves in my personal life. The world as a whole, of course, is far less pleasantly situated, as it ever has been and likely will continue to be. (I have had the chance to watch news as I rarely do, and what it shows me is hardly happy. But that is to be expected.)

There is not much else to say about things as they stand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I am in the hills of oak and cedar near the Alamo
But I have not gone again to the Shrine of Texas Liberty
Not yet and likely not soon

Some might say what is there enshrined
Is a corpse of a thing long since slain

But I do not agree

The tomb is empty
The relics are lies
The shreds of the slain saints absent
And they always have been

Monday, October 20, 2014


It is the stoner's time
Although few such people are likely to be awake
Rather, those who see this time
Are likely to be those furthest removed from such people
Those who are not stoned
But might well advocate the stoning of others
Because a book tells them so
Even if they do not really read

I am not such a man
Having had rocks thrown at me
And having smoked the smokes
I turn away from both sensations
And their infliction

Neither does any good.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


I never sleep well in a bed not my own
The grooves and lumps of which are not worn to my grooves and lumps
But reflect the bodies of others imitating the work of Thanatos
In miniature

That does not mean I do not sleep
That I do not sleep is for another reason altogether
But I am more a zombie or a revenant when laid to rest
In someone else's temporary grave
Even now I shamble

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I follow several Nelsons
Today, Willie
And I follow Crockett, too
But I am not starting in the same place.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Some time ago, I sent a short essay in for review. This morning, I opened my email to find that it had been rejected. I have discussed the idea before, and I have had it happen since, so I am not terribly hurt by it; rejections happen. I am left, however, uncertain as to what I ought to do about the rejection. I worked on the piece diligently, and if it does not fit in one journal, that does not mean I ought to set the project aside as of no value. Yet it has been rejected, so there is clearly something wrong with it, if only the circumstances of its submission.

Several options for what to do with it present themselves. Perhaps the easiest is to take the text as it is and post it as a submission to Travels in Genre and Medievalism, which is in need of more material anyway and which is at least amenable to the kind of work the essay represents. (If you have submission ideas, send them along.) Slightly more challenging would be to submit it as a conference paper for the next conference cycle; the paper is already of the appropriate length for doing so, and I would be able to get useful feedback on it for its improvement. There, though, I have the danger of seeing the work rejected a second time, which is only slightly less intimidating than being taunted a second time. (I do not expect to have to dodge flying cattle.)

A more difficult path, and more intensive, will be to pore over the typescript once again, taking it line by line and revising it extensively until it is twice its present length and suitable for submission to a more formal journal. The benefit would be in having a fully formal publication to my credit, something that I need to make myself more hirable in the academic community. But it still raises the specter of rejection, and it would be worse to have the piece rejected after the additional work than to have it rejected again only after the work that I have already done to it. It is likely worth the risk, I admit, but I am not at all sure I can take the time that would be required to actually take the risk at this point; there are many other things I need to do, after all, including a number of other papers that are already in progress for revision and submission.

I am sure I can shoehorn some treatment of the work in somewhere and somewhen. I will have to, I think, just as I will have to do a great many other things. I will need to find the resources to make it happen, though, and I fear I have already missed many deadlines to apply for such things...and many other things that would have similarly salubrious effects for my work and for me. Such is the glamorous life of a scholar in the academic humanities...

Thursday, October 16, 2014


As part of my ongoing freelance work, I have been asked to write up Jodi Picoult's Leaving Time. I do not want to tread upon my own work--the write-up is ongoing--and I am reluctant to offer much in the way of spoilers--the book released only Tuesday. I feel that I can safely note, however, that the text treats the paranormal, and while it does so in a way that I have come to understand as authentic through prior long conversations with good friends (yes, I have them), I have to think that for many or most readers, the treatment will come off as an intrusion of the fantastic into a "realistic" narrative--and that leads me to consider the ragged boundary of fantasy literature.

I have argued before that fantasy literature is that literature which concerns itself explicitly with the practice of magic, and that magic is the enactment through ritual-assisted willpower of what is impossible in the readers' world. Phenomena described as "psychic" may well fall into that category n some worldviews. Such trappings as Tarot decks smack of ritual, of course, and precognition and communication with the supernatural can easily be seen as violating causality, temporal progression, and what is often seen as a firm wall separating the quick and the dead--let alone the mechanistic principles espoused by many of the more belligerent atheists who deny the existence of an afterlife.

To the last, I have little answer; I might point out the indeterminacy of π, for example, or the immateriality of i, asserting that even the hard sciences rely upon and accept as correct ideas they cannot verify, but that is as far as I can go. As to the rest, however, I can easily assert that what many view as religious practice, many others view as empty ritual attempting to enact the impossible. The miracles or similar occurrences that pervade faith narratives, often evoked or prompted by a ritualistic proceeding, come off to my mind in much the same way that depictions of psychic phenomena come off: reports or dramatizations of perceived experience. Yet some are decried as fantastic and fraudulent, while others are lauded as unaltered and unalterable Truth (and the capital is purposeful).

Where one ends and one begins is somewhat less than clear. It is not merely an issue of what is legitimated in prevailing popular consciousness, for that is far from consensus. Even within religions, there are disagreements among sects as to what happens in rituals, whether what is believed to happen within them actually happens--whether or not a thing is magic or simply an extension of what is real. And that lack of clarity means that what counts as "magic" cannot itself be clear, thus ensuring that the literature that treats it cannot have a clear boundary, either. The lack of boundary is not necessarily problematic--in truth, no art really is bounded--although it might serve to frustrate some analysis; the value of the boundary is in focusing attention, so that its lack suggests a diffusion often antithetical to inquiry.

It is a thing to consider.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I do not think I have made any secret of my participation with the Legend of the Five Rings Role-playing Game, having only last Friday written about its most recent supplement and before that having discussed it a few times. And my engagement with the game has not been limited to that; I am even now on the GM staff for the official online play-offering, the Winter Court, having played twice in it before and having participated in the even nerdier activity of live-action role-playing at GenCon over a decade ago. I have invested a fair bit of time and money into the game, and a fair bit of thought.

In discussions, one of the tensions of the genre of game has come up repeatedly. As a game, the RPG has rules that should be followed to ease and optimize play, to help things be a fair and presumably fun experience for all involved. But an RPG is not really supposed to be competitive, Steve Jackson parodies notwithstanding; it is supposed to be a collaborative endeavor in which a group of people come together to tell a story for which they are themselves the audience. (Here, I follow Daniel Mackay's assertions in The Fantasy Role-playing Game: A New Performing Art.) The tension that arises is between adherence to the rules and adherence to story, between the letter of the law and the spirit in which the letter was written. And it provokes many rancorous arguments.

If part of the goal of the RPG is to simulate reality, to offer a secondary sub-creation (and here I channel Tolkien) into which audiences can enter easily and maintain their Coleridgean willing suspension of disbelief because that sub-creation corresponds in many or most points to the observable reality of the audience, then the fact of its provoking such arguments is a mark in its favor. For it is very much the case that the divergence of what is written and what is true animates much discussion, often vituperative, in the world in which we live--and not only in the games we play. (Sports also see it happen, I might note, so that it is not "just some nerd thing" that the minutiae get argued.) Various readings of the US Constitution, for example, or of whichever Scripture happens to be valued in a given place all see it happen, and people die because of the results. Or kill. (I might add that it makes learning how to read things well more important--but I teach reading for a living, so I would say such things.)

I come down on the side of story over rules, as those who know me know. I have abused the rules, at times, and I still look for advantage at times. But I believe that it is far better to be concerned with the narrative than with the mechanics (and, really, any world where magic works has to allow for rules to be broken). We do not remember the formal techniques Achilles used or Lancelot, but rather that they fought and why they thought, after all...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I opted to sleep in a bit today. It did not help as much as could be hoped.

Not long ago, I made a post to the Tales after Tolkien Society blog, Travels in Genre and Medievalism, that treats a piece in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I have discussed my reading the magazine before (here and here, if not elsewhere), and it was a pleasure to be able to deploy it in a more formal sense than has usually been the case for me. It was also a pleasure to hear from the author of the piece, who evidently found mention of himself and his work and decided to follow up on it. The author joins the author of another piece, an RPG I discussed with my classes as noted here. As in the fantasy author's case, I received an email from the writer following up on the reception of the work, and I was happy to have it.

There is a certain flattery in both sides of the exchange. I am in print in a few places (here, here, here, and here, among others), and I have heard myself cited in the academic work of other scholars, which is immensely gratifying. As such I confess to sharing the impulse to contact those who deploy what I have done to get their opinions of what I have done. And I confess also to being gratified to have attracted the attention of authors with my comments about their work; I have to think that the direct and personal response to criticism and scholarship is something that does not happen often. I do not think I have heard many others speak of it--although I admit that it could well be an artifact of most of my colleagues working with writings by those already dead. (Shakespeare returning to comment on the hitherto undiscovered country would not be so happy an experience, I think.)

How to handle the interaction is not entirely clear. I have not yet been confronted by an author seeking to silence me, to say that I cannot conduct scholarly inquiry into the author's work, yet I have to consider how I would handle such a request. I do not think I would be under a legal obligation to accede to the request (Fair Use doctrine and all that), but I do not know what the ethical action would be, to cease or to persist. Nor do I know, necessarily, how to address critiques of my critiques by authors whose works I do or might treat. The ideas of Foucault's death of the author and Wimsatt and Beardsley's intentional fallacy come to mind as reasons to set them aside, but the author is the sole witness to the process of composition and so retains a particular authority even if it must be admitted that more happens in the writing than the author necessarily realizes. It remains a fraught issue--although, again, I am happy to have to negotiate it. Doing so suggests that I am making some headway in my scholarly work.

Monday, October 13, 2014


A few days ago, I picked up a copy of Garrison Keillor's Leaving Home, an anthology of transcripts of tales from Lake Woebegone that had been presented during older episodes of A Prairie Home Companion. I had been introduced to the show while I was paying my way through undergraduate work by delivering pizza; I spent a lot of time in my car on Saturday afternoons and evenings, and radio offerings in my hometown were and are somewhat limited. (That is, of course, unless a listener likes country music and red-tinted talk radio a lot more than I do. But I don't.) As such, I heard a lot of upper Midwestern shenanigans as I shuttled pizza from store to door, much of the Minnesota State Fair and horrible puns and wry, dry humor, and I heard echoes of parts of my own family in them--for while my people are not from the upper Midwest, they are Midwestern, and some of what Keillor narrates happens quite a way downstream of Minneapolis / St. Paul.

As I read through the book, I began to recognize not only the characters and their situations, but a sound that echoes in my own writing. I do not claim Keillor's narrative skill, of course; I have not the set of stories that he does, the cast of characters so authentic that they must be taken from the lives of those he has known. I do not know people that well, as should be obvious (and likely is to those who know me). The way he digresses on things, however, and waxes poetic at what would be odd moments if not delivered in his soothing voice or in writing meant to suit it, is something I ineptly emulate in my own work. It had not been a conscious thing before, although now that I write it, I will not be able to escape the memory of it. But I do not think I mind it much; there are far worse models to follow than his.

I think he follows, and thus I follow at greater remove, the model of Addison and Steele in The Tatler and The Spectator. Seventeenth-century British newssheets, they offer more in the way of editorial commentary than what those who live now or who claim to remember halcyon days when all was right with the world, when people knew their places and had a sense of decorum, would call "reporting," but they were the more influential for that. "The facts" can be had by looking out the window or listening to the sounds carried by the wind; "the facts" can be had by being in the place where what is "worthy" of becoming "fact" happens. Knowing what to say about "the facts" to help them make sense, though, and to encapsulate the experience such that others can look at it and say "I get it; I understand; I would have acted thus" is a different thing altogether. Addison and Steele did much in that line; Keillor still does much, for a different set of people. I stumble behind the lot of them, for the path is rocky and my feet unsure, groping along until I find at last a grip to fit my hand.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


It is not the case
Things never go right
Things do go right
But I am tired
Of there always being something wrong
And there is always something wrong
The roof leaks
And when it is replaced
The pipe that pipes the poop away
Is clogged
Not from the stool
But from the house
And it will take a backhoe
And forestry
To make it better
Before the roof
A leak in the gaskets sealing the car
Let water in
Floorboard swamp
Fed by a spigot not yet found
To match the backyard swamp
Fed by food already eaten
And growing

One day
I will have a day
When nothing is wrong

I think the next will see everything go straight to hell.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


One of the textbooks with which I teach
Per program directive
Speaks of a toy
Simple thing, really
Shooting up a jet of flame a foot high
Just under a third of a meter of combustion's image
Elemental extrusion dagger
Fun for the whole family

I was minded of a story
(I remember not whose
And cannot find it in my library)
Of a man who used such a thing
To sear the visions from his brain
And perhaps succeeded
And I mentioned the minding to students

It is not only at
Ink running from the corners of the mouth
That happiness can come
That others do not understand

Friday, October 10, 2014


I recently received a copy of the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) RPG supplement The Book of Void (ISBN 978-1-59472-073-4, MSRP US$39.99) and read through it. It is a relatively slim volume, approximately 200 pages, so it did not take me long to read through the six chapters ("The Void of War," "The Void of Magic," "The Void of Peace," "The Void Within," "The World Is Not the World," and "Nazo Mori: The Forest of Enigmas") and the appendix in which the mechanics introduced to the game are related. Throughout, the book makes a valiant attempt to relate the philosophical, cosmological, theological, and epistemological concepts associated with the Void--a "fifth element" in the traditional four-elements scheme--to the milieu of L5R as a whole. While it necessarily falls short of a full accounting--a gaming manual cannot serve as a deep investigation of such concepts and still do what it needs to do as a gaming manual--The Book of Void does admirably at suggesting the pervasiveness of Void in the physical, social, and spiritual settings of L5R.

It also does better than many L5R supplements at offering narrative. Any tabletop RPG is fundamentally an exercise in storytelling, and having exemplary narratives does much to foster continued tale-weaving. The Book of Void follows other L5R supplements in beginning its text and each of its chapters with a vignette; more than most of the other supplements, though, it provides narratives within the text, not only using them to illustrate aspects of in-game culture, but actually ascribing stories the vaunted mechanical functions prized by many gamers. (As a scholar of literature and a believer in its transformative power, I am pleased to see that stories within the game have life of their own, at least in a fashion, and can work transformative power upon their audiences.) It does have the effect of making the book something of a miscellany, but cultures are not neat and tidy; having a miscellany suggests an authentic messiness for the L5R milieu, easing Coleridgean suspension of disbelief and allowing for a better narrative immersion.

This is not to say that the book is perfect, however. The producing company has long-standing habit of not proofreading as well as it ought to, and while The Book of Void appears to suffer less from that habit than have other texts, it still has surface-level problems that distract and annoy. Too, Chapter Six seems to take a Lovecraftian tack which, if realized, would have profound implications for the theology and cosmology of the game. (The book motions toward, but does not fully engage, them in other places.) The authors seem unwilling to pursue the Lovecraftian overtones, however, or to do so fully; the text seems to shy away from presenting Cthulhoid imagery where it would work quite well. The reasoning presented is that the players should have options, and while allowing them means that players who own the text cannot be certain what they will face when they play the game, it also means that the narrative force is somewhat weakened. For a game that relies upon narrative for its play, this is a problem.

Even so, however, The Book of Void is a fine supplement. It refines earlier discussions in the game and adds new ones to be had, and it presents mechanics that are reasonably well balanced for play (as well as suggestions for how to keep them that way). It does both amid a number of smaller stories that illumine the milieu for the benefit of those of us who tell stories within it, and that is something to be appreciated.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


While I walked to work yesterday--
A new pair of shoes on my feet
Gnawing at me where Paris's strike fell
A bite at every step--
I fell in behind a freshly-showered young woman

Her hair was wet as it lay upon her shoulders and back
And the air behind her bore the chemical smell of her shampoo or conditioner

I saw her step to one side of the path
Take a picture with her cell phone

When I drew level with where she had paused
And she was yet several paces ahead
I saw that she had halted for a moment opposite a storm drain
In which a skunk rooted contentedly

I do not count it to my shame
I overtook the young woman not much later

Had it been
My heels paid any penance needed

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I had thought
What I wrote last night
Would allow me to write this morning

When I looked at the inked pages
Marred by ropy trails drawn from a cylinder's tapered end
And saw what I had done
I realized that I erred in my thinking

Dare I show in light of day
The workings of my right hand's motion
Back and forth

Is it a thing of which I should be proud
That I have worked a piston
And gotten fluid from the tip?
The callow youth does as much
And to as much effect

My fluids have engendered
Things of which to be proud

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I do not often remember my dreams, as I believe I have noted. I remember one from today, though. It had me in high school, but not the high school I attended. I was about to be late to class, and I could not remember what class I was supposed to be in. I made for my locker, which was near the band hall but not in it, and searched for the print-out of my class schedule. I could not find it, although I did find a sheaf of purple paper, perhaps 24 lb. (how I remember such strange details...), with a series of dates upon it. I think they were for concerts, although why the paper would be purple...still, it was at about that point that Ms. 8 woke me inadvertently (she is not at the point yet, I think, when she does such things on purpose). I took care of her briefly and returned to bed for another two and a half hours (it was half past three this morning). Yet the images from the dream remain with me.

It has been some time since I was in high school, and it has only been slightly less since I have been on the grounds of one. I do not recall that I was ever late to a class (go figure that one out), and at no point before college did I have a locker near the band hall (although I used the instrument room in the band hall as a locker, but I was hardly alone in that). Nor was the high school I attended much into the use of purple in décor or documentation. Nor yet do I have a longing to return to some halcyon of adolescent glory--I did not have one. So why I would dream of such things eludes me. I do not know what to make of it.

I know that this may be an instance where I am told that I am overthinking the issue, that it simply is and bears no explication, carries no further meaning. I would point out that I have heard many of the same people who make such comments spout off the cliché that "there is a plan for you" or words to that effect, and that the two positions--"there is no deeper meaning" and "there is a plan"--are mutually exclusive. A plan is a deeper meaning. Why I should be faulted for trying to find it by the same people who assert that there is intent and that "things work out as they should" eludes me, as well. I am not made for blind acceptance; I am made to pry into and question, to parse, to analyze and explore. (And I once again think I ought to have written this as a poem.) My abilities are limited, of course, as I am a finite being, but that does not mean I will not strive to approach the infinitude--even if I am annoyed at not understanding the dreams that I dream and surprisingly remember.

Monday, October 6, 2014


The mid-semester grind is upon me again. I am perhaps halfway through the current term, and I am beginning to feel overwhelmed by the work and by the tedium. There is grading to do, of course, with student projects coming in today as they did on Friday, and my own work still presses upon me, too often shunted to the side in favor of my freelance paying gigs or what I am supposed to do on behalf of the few students who actually care and the entirely too many who do not. How I will ever get caught up, I do not know, for I continue to carry fatigue despite making sure I go to bed earlier and, for the most part, sleeping straight through the night.

If I call it a grind, I have to call myself the grist. (With the image only now coming to me, I find that I wish I had thought to write a bit of verse today. Ah, well.) I feel I have been uprooted and stripped of much that was part of me and am now being turned over and over under the millstone or under the pounding of a water-current-driven hammer, a wooden pole thumping upon my head again and again. There is some consolation in the certainty that I have something in me worth having, else I would not be subject to the treatment, but that does not mean that the treatment is enjoyable--nor what is to come. For the ground grain is gathered as flour, wet and kneaded and baked and eaten; who will consume me? (Damn, but I wish I had had the image earlier and written it as a poem!)

Others are worse off, I know. I chose this kind of life, I know. That remarking takes up time and energy that could be better spent otherwise, I know. All vitiate against my making complaint (although I would note that we do not condemn those who "work hard" for groaning at rising once again to face the day or noting the aches and pains attendant upon their work). Yet still I feel it must be said. Still I feel that not enough is noted about what the work that most who teach do does to those who do it, or not enough of it is heard. For the work of teaching seems bounded by the classroom, and it is often only dimly and later that its effect is known. The work of grading that takes up so much time is done away from the eyes of others, save the unfortunate few who happen to love those of us who do it (unfortunate because we are not only gone from them in doing the work of teaching but in doing the work of grading; the multiple-choice test makes more sense from that perspective). (Damn, but I should have written this as a poem!) It is not seen, so it is not understood, and because it is not understood, it is dismissed.

The bell needs to ring to have the class resume.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


One of the things that has been keeping me occupied is work with the online Legend of the Five Rings Winter Court. I am on the staff this time after playing twice before, and things have opened up somewhat for it. Shepherding--or horse-herding, as the case more nearly is--has begun, and it is actually entertaining. Then again, it would be; I have been engaged in L5R stuff for a while now, including some more formal discussions of it. And there are aspects of the work of doing so that remind me of teaching when the teaching works well; the players are like engaged students, looking to work together on something in which they have a shared interest and do the necessary outside reading to be able to do it well.

There are, of course, the...less pleasant to deal with, both in the game and in the classroom. They can never be wholly avoided, and some emerge as matters develop. It is happening in the online forums where the game will be occurring. (Play has yet to begin. Character development has begun, and background development has been in process for a while.) One or two are coming off as pedants who seem bent on being "right" despite the likely fallout, and one or two others are looking for ways to use the system to break the system. Those of us charged with oversight are only human, and we are waiting for things to happen that will allow for...correction. They inevitably do--as is true of the classroom as well.

How things will progress, I do not know. It looks as if people are already having fun with the thing, which is good. I have seen pedantry and system-breaking ruin things that start out well, though, and I have to worry that the actions of a few will poison what the rest get to have. And not only in the game--some of the classes I teach got off to a decent start, but in one or two, there are a couple of people who seem bent on screwing around with things. Why they would do so, I do not know. Perhaps they feel they have to compensate for something. Perhaps it is the only way they know to validate themselves. Perhaps also they have been steeped in the belief that those of us who teach do so because we cannot do (damned Shaw again), or in the belief that the professoriate "hates all that is good" or some such thing. But I cannot do with my students as I can with those in the game; in the latter, the offenders can be ejected, while in the former, although I have the technical right to do so, exercising that right is...problematic. And I have to consider that my own insecurities might be at work...

People wonder why I spend time with RPGs as I do, why I read the things I read when my reading time is my own (which is not so often, anymore). Some of the answers should be obvious.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


The weather is turning again
The air is cool
Clouds still streak the sky
Hints of red and gold and brown limn the leaves
Made green through recent rains
Although not enough

How fortunate am I!
The house is warm
The chair comfortable
The hot drink ready to hand
Coffee in morning
Tea afternoon
Steaming cider in the evening
Spiced in the mug

Friday, October 3, 2014



It is gratifying to be asked to write letters of recommendation. It is more gratifying to be actually able to do so. Too seldom do those of us in academia hear that we are doing well and that our efforts are appreciated. Too seldom, too, do we say it.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by good folks in my field. I know not all are.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I am displeased with the last couple of days of teaching I have done. Normally, I am an energetic lecturer, peppering my talks with jokes at various levels of obviousness and puns of various groan-inducing thrusts. The last couple of days of lecture have been fairly dead, though, and I am not entirely sure why. I know the material backwards and forwards, up, down, and sideways; I am a Wonkavator with it. But getting that knowledge from the factory floor to the packaging--colorful with the occasional golden ticket inside--has not gone so smoothly as it usually does, and I find myself beset by Verucas galore.

(I can follow a metaphor. And I can, perhaps, stop before I go too far. It would not behoove me to talk about geese or squirrels at the moment, I think.)

There is a temptation to put the problem down to fatigue. I have been tired, recently, again, lassitude overtaking me in every spare moment. My mind has been more sluggish, my limbs...It has been long since I have exercised any of the meager knowledge of martial arts I have, and I can tell, truly. I am still doing enough to discharge my collegiate duties, certainly, but not much--if any--more than that, and that is a problem, for I still have much more to do. There are papers to write and to try to get published if I am to find a better and more stable life for myself and those who depend upon me, as I desire to do. And I have job letters to draft and send out, as well as freelance work waiting for my attention (and it will not wait for long).

Simple tiredness, though, does not seem to be the whole of it. I have been tired before and not suffered so much from it; one or two nights of good sleep have fixed the problem. Perhaps I am not sleeping well, although I do not recall waking repeatedly for Ms. 8 or for other reasons. (When I was sick a while back, I woke repeatedly in the night and had trouble returning to sleep, which is rare for me. But that has not been the case since, so far as I know.) It is a thing to consider, although I am not sure I am in a position to do anything about it; I do not know if my insurance covers any kind of sleep therapy, and I am not certain I can afford the co-pay if it does. The professorial salary is not so great as might be expected.

I will trudge on, of course, as there is no real alternative to my doing so. But I have to consider how many more steps I can take before I do wear out. I do not think my feet are bleeding, but I am quite sure they are blistered, and I may have shin splints, to boot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Entirely random notes:

My daughter's wet diapers somehow reek to me of commercial breakfast cereals. I do not know how this can happen, but it does.

I have not written in my journal in days. I do not know why, but I seem okay with it.

One of the cats, at least, has loose stool.

They are hypocrites who complain about wealth redistribution and benefit from it. Those at state schools and/or those who receive Pell Grants should be thankful for them and not gripe about them.

The same is true for those whose paychecks come from such sources.

Education is not content delivery.

Oaths coerced have no value.

Demanding that someone who cannot spell "allegiance" pledge it to anything seems coercive.

Punishing those who can spell the word and withhold their oath is coercive.

Both happen with astonishing regularity.

Education is not degraded by considering viewpoints other than those of one's grandfather.

Things were *not* better "back in the day" save for white middle class heterosexuals. I am not sure they are better now, though.

I am, theoretically, of the white middle class. I am also tens of thousands of dollars in debt with what entry into it has required.

I am less than theoretically heterosexual.

Some people do exploit "the system." Why would they not?

Many of those people make a *lot* more money than I do.

Prevailing wisdom is that they "deserve" it. Must be nice.