Saturday, November 29, 2014


The fight continues, of course. There has been a reduction of force on both sides, some losses and some attrition. The siege will have to endure.

Something else that continues is Ms. 8's growth. My wife and I were reviewing pictures of her last night, and how much she has grown amazes me. It is not just her physical growth, although that is impressive; she has nearly quadrupled her mass since delivery, and she both crawls with exceeding proficiency and pulls up with aplomb. Her personality, seemingly in place from the womb, is growing stronger and more distinct, as well. In the recent visit from family, she showed herself capable of outright indignation; her grandfather corrected her, and she glared at him for a full minute. (It was an improvement over the screaming she had been doing at him.) She exhibits a determination remarkable to see; I could wish some people I might name would pursue their goals as diligently as she does hers.

Another thing that continues, and far less happily than my daughter's development, is the work of grading. While I managed to knock out two sets of submissions yesterday, I yet have two more to complete. I should be able to get at least one of them done, if not both; how effective I can be at the task will depend largely on my daughter's cooperation. She needs a fair bit of supervision if I am not to leave her in her playpen (and I am told by many to whom I am inclined to listen that I ought not to do so overlong), so I can only really work when there are others to watch her or when she is asleep. Since my wife's work also continues today, I have to rely upon the latter for a time. It is not a problem, per se, but it does impose some...interesting perturbations upon my schedule, for Ms. 8 no longer takes a regular nap. She sleeps, but not in a predictable pattern anymore. She used to, and I miss it.

How much else will keep going on, I am not sure. Some of it will doubtlessly be stuff that would be better to have ended. (Much of it, actually.) Some will be stuff that goes on unnoticed. (Much this, also, largely because we do not or cannot pay attention; not all is revealed to us, but that does not mean it is not.) I entertain some hope, though, that some things that are good, insofar as anything in this world is good, will continue. I count my daughter and my marriage among such goodness, and I count my work on The Work among it, as well, even if the last has not gotten the attention it probably ought to recently. Still, if I can but get the grading done, I can turn to it once again in joy--for there is much of The Work yet to do, and I am sustained in large part by doing it.

Friday, November 28, 2014


A fight has been fought and a battle won
But the war is not over
There are holdouts left that must be cleared
And they will have reinforcements
Additions to their numbers from different companies and regiments
Fresher and seeming more worth the engagement
Especially after days
And weeks
And perhaps months
Of fighting against the remnants
Of yesterday's forces
And the bloat attendant upon that fight

Thursday, November 27, 2014


To those who celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!

To those who will question the phrasing above: There are people outside the US whom I know and who do not celebrate the holiday. And there are people inside the US who understandably have difficulty finding things for which to be thankful--if they can do so at all. Nor am I certain that they ought to do so--and you ought not to be. It is not your life they live. It is not your circumstances they face. It is not yours to dictate whether they are or are not thankful for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Nor is it yours to dictate whether those circumstances are of their own making; you do not know. And you likely do not want to know--or, rather, you might like to know but are unwilling to do what it takes to know.

And I do know that.

To those who do not celebrate the holiday: fine. I hope your day is good to you and allows you to do some good in the world.

I will be working to do some good for my family. Freelance work continues, and I have a project to do. (I should be able to get it done today.) Its completion will allow me to support my wife and my daughter just a little bit better, and I will admit to being more concerned with matters at the scale of my home than those of the regional, national, or world levels which I cannot meaningfully affect without setting aside the responsibilities which are mine to discharge. (And I am aware that such rhetoric is a tool used to oppress, albeit at lesser levels than others historically documented and unfortunately still ongoing; my deployment of it in reference to myself is a marker of how I have been shaped by such systems, I know.)

To those who will recoil at the thought of working on a holiday: Needs must. Am I not supposed to be diligent in providing for the needs of my family? Do their needs stop because it is a day appointed for celebration? Should I not use the resources available to me--the presence of family in the home--to make easier the work of supporting that family, relying on those here to tend to those here while I apply the skills I have to the task of earning income for them? Is that not the way appointed? And, after all, I am simply sitting at a desk, reading one piece to write another as I do in most of the work that I do; is this really so onerous a task that I need so much respite from it? Am I not derided as part of a class for doing that very thing and presuming to call it work? Why, then, should I leave off from it for a holiday, since it is not "real work" in the eyes of many? More, how should I do so, when there is much to do for the support of my family, to ensure that they have somewhat with which to celebrate if they are going to do so?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Today is payday, as it is the last business day of the month. That means it is also "pay the bills day," which is far less happy an occasion. Still, the task is done, and I think I have a bit more money after doing so this time than last. It is a pleasant thought, and one I hope to have happen again.

The Mrs. and I have company over; since she is working today and Friday, we were not able to arrange to be elsewhere for Thanksgiving. We are still seeing family, though; my father-in-law and stepmother-in-law are visiting from Arkansas. It is good to have them over, even if Ms. 8 is having what seems to be a typical infant reaction to new people in her space.

I think she is learning too much from the cats.

Work continues, of course. I have a freelance job to do in addition to the grading that suddenly blossomed on Monday. And the other project still needs attention, as do job applications (because I am still looking for continuing-line work, hence the trip to Vancouver for which I am still seeking assistance) and yet other projects. I am fortunate that the present company works at a school and so understands the demands that classroom work imposes outside the classroom.

We get so many holidays, those of us who teach.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Christmas is only a month away
The shopping season's growing short
Black Friday has not happened yet
With bargains, sales of every sort.
Families will gather soon
And marvel at the gifts they bring
And how much spent and how much saved,
For the one important thing
Is how the money moves around.
Lavish gifts will show the wealth
Of those who give, and frugal gifts
Demonstrate concern for health
Financial, marking as the poor
Those who give them. Those
Who get them have the chance
To act better the part that knows
"'Tis better to give than to receive."
The Christmas adage rings more true
For wealth from poor than from reverse--
As likely it will ever do.
But Christmas is a mere month away.
The shopping season's growing brief.
Black Friday has not happened yet.
The sales are coming; what a relief!

Monday, November 24, 2014


I am looking forward to a relatively easy day at campus today. It will be the only day this week that I meet with my students, and I will be administering student evaluations (as much as I ever actually administer them). All four classes have large projects coming in, though, and so much of the rest of the week will be taken up with grading. Thursday will probably not, as I do have every intention of enjoying such fruits of the harvest as are mine to take, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. But the rest of the week...oh, yes. Grading. And work on a project that is due at the end of the month; that needs doing, too.

Honestly, though, I do not expect to have many students in the rooms today. Attendance was poor on Friday, and what I heard from the relatively few students on campus is that many are simply taking the week off, despite school being open today (Monday) and Tuesday. A number of my colleagues have reportedly cancelled classes for those days, which skirts the raw edge of acceptable practice; convenience is not really a good reason to lay out, although those who have the leave time are entitled to it, certainly. But because I remain in a contingent position, I am wary of doing such things, and I have already missed several days this term (illness and travel take their tolls). And I will not bemoan having fewer students today; it will allow me to get done what I need to get done all the more quickly.

"What I need to get done" consists of the aforementioned student evaluations, which will happen after attendance-taking and a brief breakdown of the projects submitted. I always do a brief recap of events when major assignments come in, and I do occasionally take into consideration what the students tell me about them. Only occasionally, though; the myriad "It's too hard" ring too poorly in my ears for me to heed them. Indeed, I think sometimes that they want to be spoon-fed pap that they will then vomit back up before taking anything of it into themselves, as though they view education as a sullying of their supposedly sacred selves. It is an uncharitable thought, perhaps, but one that accords with the actions I see from many in my classroom.

I ought to be better, I know. I ought to approach my classroom as an engine for change, a venue in which I can reach into young minds and awaken the potentials in them, touching lives so that they can touch others, and any others of a number of wonderful clichés that I heard bandied about pedagogy classes and read bandied about although surrounded by layers of turgid prose (per an old professor of mine) in pedagogical theory. But I cannot. I have not the power to continue to do so amid the many other things to which I must attend--including those students who *do* open their eyes and *see* when they are in my classes. And so I look forward to an easy day today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


The semester is winding down
Next week is truncated
The following week is dead
The one after examines
And then it is done

It is the calm before the storm
The hurricane's eye
For papers and projects are due Monday

I breathe deeply in this small space
I will need it

Friday, November 21, 2014


A year ago, I wrote of the effects coffee had been having on me. Now, as then, I have been drinking more tea on my days away from the office (to call them "days off" is a misnomer, as I and many others have noted), and now, as then, doing so has largely staved off the negative consequences of over-caffeination while still allowing me access to the benefits of caffeine consumption. Yet I feel myself to be less productive now than then, and I do not know if it is an effect of my being a year older or if it is a result of my being a year more inured to the stimulant. Nor do I know what can be done about either, if anything.

There is a part of me that suggests my stimulant-enabled successes could be continued, even enhanced, by recourse to more powerful drugs; it reminds me that my lovely wife, even though she holds a master's degree in English and another in linguistics, works as a pharmacy technician and thus has access to such substances. It is not one of the better parts of me, I know; the side-effects of such chemicals are not likely to be advantageous to my family life, both in terms of the legal troubles attendant upon their misuse and in the alterations to my psyche they would doubtlessly impose. Neither my Mrs. nor Ms. 8 should be subjected to such travails--yet I cannot help but wonder if I would not do better at supporting them did I avail myself of such things.

Perhaps I am paranoid about my situation that I even tangentially entertain the idea of taking other stimulants than caffeine to increase my productivity. Perhaps also I am embedded more fully in certain myths about work and the work ethic than I had realized or noted (here, here, and here, among others). I am not going to heed the part of myself that suggests I take on another drug addiction to help support my financial addiction--as I remark above, I am passingly aware of the consequences, and I do not deem them acceptable--but I confess to having such a part, and I worry about what it indicates about me that I have it and that I react to it as I do.

It is one more thing about which I worry for myself and for my family (who I flatter myself depend upon me). There are many such, as I think I have given evidence. And I probably ought to let them alone; considering them does me little if any good, and they are as nothing compared to the worries I know others have. I have made remarks to that effect, and more than once. Yet I am still who I am, and it seems that among the parts of that person is a worrier, and an introspective one trained and habituated to follow ideas almost out of reflex. And that has some interesting implications about the way things happen...

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Today is the National Transgender Day of Remembrance. I am a cis-hetero-male of the white middle class and from the middle of the US; I am the unmarked. But I recognize that it is wrong, flatly wrong, to persecute those who do not conform to "traditional" gender binaries because they do not conform to them. I admit that I have little if any understanding of the circumstances and situations of those who are transgendered; even with the ways in which I have been made to feel less, I have never not felt male. When I have spoken with or worshipped with members of trans communities, the fact of trans-ness has not much been the topic treated; we were doing other things entirely. So I do not claim expertise in the matter. But that does not mean I cannot recognize the systemic wrongs that enable discrimination against trans persons because they are trans. It does not mean that I cannot pause for a moment to condemn those wrongs or to think on those who have suffered them. It does not mean that I cannot consider what little I can do to right the wrongs as they occur within me and around me, whether through working to redress ignorance or to deter willful bad behavior.

Violence and other discrimination against trans persons comprise one of the many ways in which the dominant culture of the United States is in need of correction; that culture, from which I am ostensibly positioned to benefit through standing at the focus of many of its normalizing assumptions (I am the target audience of the performance and easily swap in for the presumed originator/s of many of its tenets), does much to normalize through rejection of what is different, and there are many differences to be found. At its most forgivable, the rejection proceeds from a lack of understanding, and I admit to my own culpability in that regard; I do not know, and so I likely end up offending through that ignorance. And there are limits to what any one person can know; we all of us have work to do (paid and validated by the dominant culture or otherwise), and the attention demanded by that work and given to it cannot be otherwise spent. But much of the rejection is based not on ignorance but unwillingness to learn, and that is not forgivable. One may be pardoned for not knowing if not exposed to knowledge, and one may be forgiven (if to a lesser extent) fro trying to learn and not having mastered material, but forgiving those who refuse to make the attempt...I am not so good a person as to do so. When that refusal erupts as violence against persons, it is clearly wrong. When it manifests as differentiation of legal protection, it is also clearly wrong. Both happen, and entirely too much. Hence the Day of Remembrance. Hence the activities that surround it. And hence my own small contribution, for whatever good it may actually do in the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Not as much is made of Gettysburg this year as was last

The speech is no less important
Either as model for writing
Or as encapsulation of an ideal
To which we aspire in name
And which we do not achieve

Its age is not a convenient number
And so it remains curiosity only
A school-child remembrance much obscured
By the minutiae of adult life
And "adult life"

Even when it is convenient
And trotted out again in solemn celebration
For it is an epitaph upon many graves
A eulogy
It is not much honored

To honor it would be to embody it
To keep in mind its tenets
To live in such a way as brings credit to those for whom it was spoken
To act in such a way as means
Such sacrifice is never again needed

We do not do so.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


As I was in the shower this morning, I considered the piece that I just read for my freelance work--another police procedural. My mind wandered thence to the idea of detection, but not so much in the police-sense as in the sensory sense, and I thought about the kinds of words that get used to describe sensory experience. They are raw and unmolded thoughts, more fit for the first part of this blog's title than the last, but because they fit it, I feel no compunction about offering them:

To say that we detect a thing is an accurate statement, but broad (for it obscures the means of detection) and somewhat sterile (it evokes techno-arcane scanning devices that work at long distances or at very small scales, neither of which translates well into human experience). It is a vague word, a word used when other words do not quite fit--and it does not fit well, itself. It is, in a sense, a too-large jacket; it covers what needs covering, but it hangs oddly and looks strange. Perhaps there is something beneath it that should not be seen...

Yet other words for senses have problems, as well. To say, for instance, that we feel a thing may be accurate, and it does make more visceral the sensory experience, tying to a shared sensation. (Except for lepers.) But it also has overtones of the non-serious, the hallucinatory, the surreal; it is difficult to verify that a thing is felt or that it has been felt, and because much that cannot otherwise be perceived is called "feeling," it may or may not be trustworthy.

Smelling, seeing, and tasting seem to me to be more accurate for what we tend to call "detection." As I have seen it used, "detection" involves identifying small particles of things amid many others or amid empty space, and smelling, seeing, and tasting all do that. Tasting has a particularly intimate association--there is something about the work of the mouth that makes for peculiar closeness--but seeing and smelling do not. And, frankly, smelling does not get enough attention (possibly because it is not the most acute human sense, but I am not up enough on the research in that line to be sure). Perhaps it would be fitting to say that the sensors "smelled" the thing rather than simply "sensed" it, as the latter term has even more surrealist connotations than does "felt." I know that anthropomorphization rankles, and that to ascribe biological characteristics to the non-biological goes too far in that direction...

As I note, the thoughts are raw and unformed, more fitting of ravings than of lucid prose. But there is something to consider in the way we use the words we use.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I am doing what I can to ramp up my job search amid the oncoming end of the term (only three weeks to go--frightening), my freelance work (another project due Wednesday, and I have hardly begun), and some service projects with which I am struggling (Travels in Genre and Medievalism--please contribute--and scouring journal articles for annotations). As part of that, I will be traveling to the MLA convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in January, where a number of the jobs for which I have applied will be conducting interviews. And because I am not wealthy, I am asking for help to support that effort.

It is not a thing with which I am thrilled. I dislike having to outright ask for help, to admit that the way I have done things hitherto has not sufficed to my needs and the needs of my family. And I anticipate objections, namely that my asking confirms the parasitic nature of my professional endeavors and that I am seeking too high a post instead of starting at the bottom and working my way up. I do not know how to address the first, except to say that a single instance does not a whole profession make; that I need to ask at this point in time, after having worked diligently in the field for many years and not at all often getting the "time off" which is thrown in the faces of those whose work is like mine, does not mean that I always do or that all do. Hasty generalization is a fallacy. But for the second objection, I do have a response; I did start at the bottom, first working as an adjunct at a two-year college, then earning a full-time theoretically-continuing spot there, then moving (slightly south of laterally, professionally) to a full-time contract position at a state university. If I am supposed to be moving up, and attendance at the MLA convention, despite financial concerns and the socioeconomic stratification they entail, is almost prerequisite for doing so (there are some jobs that do not oblige me to interview there, but many will only interview there), then it should not be thought odd that I seek to travel there. And I can but go where the work is--or promises to be. Or am I a serf, bound to a single place in the world and expected to toil on behalf of feudal/corporate masters and with few rights or hope?

As I note, I am not happy to ask outright for money. I am not happy to admit to my own incapacities of the moment. But I would be far less happy to "suck it up" and not make the solid, honest attempt to secure a better future for myself and my family. My own pride as a person is far less than my responsibility as a husband and father; I am annoyed and only annoyed at sacrificing the one--which has done me little good, I might add--for the other. And I would still appreciate the hand up--I am, after all, looking for a shot at work.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


There are days I want to sleep a bit more than I usually do. Today was one of them, and I feel better because of it. For the most part: I was roused not long after one o'clock this morning by Ms. 8 crying out in her sleep. She remained asleep entirely, so I did not disturb her, but she very much disturbed me. And I was jolted awake again not long after four this morning by a sharp cramp in my left calf; it is still a bit sore, in fact. Aside from those interruptions, though, I had a good night of sleep, and I let myself doze later into the morning than I normally do.

That I do not usually sleep so long as I did for my last sleep is something I have repeatedly discussed. I am normally a morning person, working best in the quiet hours around the dawn, and attending to Ms. 8 and her needs means that I cannot simply decide to sleep in on a weekend morning with the impunity that was once mine to wield. Too, I usually dislike the fact of my need for sleep; there is so much more that I could do with the time, and I seem to miss out on things while my body forcibly replenishes itself. I rather dislike missing out on things, and I like even less seeing things unaddressed that my efforts ought to address fully, but needs must.

From time to time, however, when I am ill or I am greatly weary, and other circumstances align exactly right, I do let myself sleep more. Instead of the six or so hours I normally get, I sleep for eight or nine, and wake more fully refreshed. I do not leap straight to work, as I usually do (and most mornings I start to work before I start to write in this webspace), but take my ease for a bit. It is something some might suggest I do more often, and they are likely right that I ought to do so, but I know that I will feel guilty for the spent time before today is done. Even now, there are things to do, and I am not doing them. Nor will I likely do so for a while.

For a moment, though, I can set such concerns aside and sit with a cup of coffee in the chilly morning, writing idly and contemplating the state of the world. I can enjoy for a brief time having woken at my ease and refreshed before I gird myself up and plunge yet again into the mind-work that I do to support my wife and daughter and the tending to the latter's needs (since she, still not yet nine months old, cannot do so for herself). It does not happen often, after all (although part of me still says "more than it should"), and I think that I may be forgiven the occasional indulgence of this sort.

Friday, November 14, 2014


It makes sense that I seem to do my better writing--I find that I have more to say and an easier time of saying it--when I am writing about the things I read and have read. Multiple degrees in English ought to be good for something after all, even if they do not make me immune to the occasional typographical error. (Those who read this blog know that it makes use of its own earlier entries from time to time. Poring over the blogroll for them reveals points of authorial inattention to details of usage. They doubtlessly indicate laziness or too much haste, and those who will engage in the fallacy fallacy--among whom are many pedants I know directly or by report--will perhaps be better served to read otherwise.) And it seems to be the case that I have more readers when I do make such comments than when I do not, if the readership statistics this platform offers me constitute anything like a reliable indicator.

There are times, though, when what I read chokes my throat with anger and knots my hands into claws that an old and angry part of me wants to wrap around throats and squeeze. I feel my chest tighten and a grimace creep across my face, and I know that my pupils open further the blackness within my eyes. And it is not at fictional exploits that this happens; I get annoyed, of course, and voice that annoyance with keyboard and tongue, and I am extravagant in my annoyance. But I do not react to that the way I do to reports of the all-too-real stupidity of the world, stupidity that, once permitted (and almost certainly permitted because we have to think of the children--and I am a father who rails against it), often spreads until it threatens to choke out what little intelligence finds purchase in the thin and rocky soil offered to it anymore. (Yes, I know I near falling down the slippery slope into something like an appeal to tradition. Note the qualifiers. There is some small hope, even yet.)

I do not do well to address the issues that provoke such reactions while amidst such reactions. I am not doing so now. I am, instead, attempting to distract myself from them for a bit so that my unconscious or subconscious mind can work to find some redress to the problems presented. (I follow the Good Doctor's "The Eureka Phenomenon" for this idea.) Perhaps, in time, I will return to them with a clearer mind and find a way to speak against them that does not make of me the kind of ravening idiot that I believe many of those who perpetuate such stupidities to be. But it is more likely that other concerns will shove them aside, new indignities piled upon them, and they will be pressed down into the substrata from which, in time, distilled bitterness may be pumped or hardened, cutting bits of it mined out and polished to a brilliant sheen.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


It seems that more people read what I write when I write prose than when I write verse. That they still read when I write verse tells me I am not so far gone as a Vogon, but it still suggests that more lines on the page ought to be sentences than free verse or iambic pentameter. (Not that I do much of the latter.) For today, at least, I will take the hint.

I have on occasion noted histories of things on my shelves and in my home. I do entertain the idea that I might put together some collection of creative nonfiction that discusses a number of them, but that will have to wait until a large number of other projects are completed (including a freelance project I really need to write today). In the meantime, though, I can relate a bit about one of them (and it *may* make it into the hypothetical later collection, although I will doubtlessly amend it and improve it; the kind of writing I do in this webspace is not exactly as polished as I would have it be to be in print):

I often note that I "cut my teeth on Asimov," and it is more or less true; an early memory has me looking at the expanded collection of Foundation novels my mother had just after Foundation's Edge came out, thirty years after the Foundation Trilogy. Even now, I have copies of a number of the Good Doctor's books on my shelves, including paperbacks of the Foundation series--including Forward the Foundation. It is a first paperback run of the work, and it is battered and abused through repeated reading, the sweeping art-insert behind the front cover long since gone. (I know that I will at some point need to replace it. I do not look forward to doing so.)

That copy is one of two I received when I was ten or eleven. Both my parents and one of my grandmothers had bought a copy for me, the former as part of a complete set of the Foundation novels (which says much of who and what I have been and still am, as well as the support for it I was provided), the latter as a single item. I recall being happy to receive both as well as confused as to whose gift to keep; I no longer recall whose I did, which copy still manages to be on my shelf more than twenty years later.

It does not matter, really. The important thing is that I have had as many years of enjoyment from the piece--which I contend betrays the Good Doctor's awareness of his impending death from complications of AIDS (he had several surgeries and thus several transfusions in the 1980s, after HIV emerged in force but before physicians knew to screen blood for it)--as I have. I have said that I will need to replace the copy at some point; the day will come when the binding fails and the pages flutter away, or the pages will tear and no tape will save them. But a volume held for decades is not one so easily set aside, and I am something of a bibliophile in any event...I do not relish the thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


I spent most of yesterday marking papers. There are times I do not know why I do so; few if any of the students read the comments, and fewer yet actually work to correct the problems identified in their work. My efforts on the students' behalf in that regard are therefore frustrating.

Now that I think on it, though, I do have an idea why I work grading as I do. It provides evidence that I can use to defend myself in the event of a grade appeal. It affords me a paper trail I can use to rebut student assertions that the way I have treated their papers is wrong, somehow; it allows me to reassert my authority when it is challenged.

There will be some, of course, who will say that the idea of professorial authority is flawed, that in a student-centered classroom it is the students who have the authority--and that more because of numbers and purportedly democratic ideals than because of any authority that inheres in a position. I doubt that many if any of them change grades on a student's say-so or that they acquiesce to grade appeals without contestation, though. I have never heard of such a thing happening, and I have read much of the theory and reports of its purported application. Because it seems to me that proponents of wholly student-centered, antiauthoritarian teaching would report doing so as a way to enhance their own ethos, the lack is, to my mind, telling.

Others will say that the idea of professorial authority is flawed for other reasons entirely, namely that the professoriate as a whole (but particularly in the academic humanities) is a corps of the fraudulent. We are parasites sucking at the public teat for the most part, either treading over ground already well trodden, finding clues to things that they were never taught where the footsteps of others have destroyed any evidence--or we are wasting our time with modernist trifles and dragging the young along with us as we indoctrinate them into some brainwashed cult of hyper-socialist personality directly and specifically aligned against the "values on which this country was built." (And since quite a bit of that involved genocide and slavery, yes, most scholars of the academic humanities I have known have problems with the "traditional" narrative of US history; genocide and slavery are bad, remember? Ignoring their presence is also bad. Why do people want us to be bad and to endorse badness?) I have to think that many of them did badly in their coursework, and even if they succeeded later on, they still carry the marks awarded them. (I intend the pun.)

Well do I know that old wounds hurt long.

Flawed or not, I do operate in a context that requires me to present an air of authority. As such, I do have to maintain that authority, and so I have to be ready to meet challenges to it. Hence the grading and the work--long and vexing--I do to enact it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It is Veterans Day in the United States. (The usage still bothers me.) This year, I think I will re-blog a comment made by a colleague of mine, himself a veteran of the US Navy:
Tomorrow when you get the urge to thank a veteran, instead call or write your politicians and tell them 2 things: fulfill our government's obligation to provide excellent care for those injured and make damn sure to not send another into these endless, unnecessary wars. That's better than a "thank you."
He is right, of course, and given how many people who are on their way into office claim, loudly and repeatedly, to care about armed services personnel, things damned well ought to get better soon. The kind of thing where backlogs of care cases happen and are covered up due to a lack of appropriate support should end.

If, you know, those who have the power of the purse will actually open it so that the nation can meet its obligations and, you know, take responsibility for fulfilling the terms on which it took the lives and health of those who volunteered to serve.


Monday, November 10, 2014


Today is my father's birthday, and I am glad he is around to see it. I have said so once or twice before, even if not as eloquently as I ought to have or as often. I have not, after all, always been a good son and diligent; it took entirely too long for me to begin to treat decently a fundamentally good and decent man who has done little but work for the betterment of my mother, my brother, and me in the last thirty-something years. But I am better, now, and I am thankful to have had such a man in my life.

Sentimentality aside, today promises to be a busy day. A colleague and I have planned to exchange observations and letters of recommendation based on them, the idea being that doing so will help us to get jobs. One of the advantages to my current work setup is that I am in close, sustained contact with other academics who are not in my field of study; we all teach classes other than those to which we are optimally suited, and so we function as peers not in competition with one another. In theory, our comments about each other's scholarship and teaching should carry some weight because we are sufficiently skilled as to be able to assess one another yet sufficiently detached to be able to offer some reasonably objective commentaries. So there is that.

The observations are in addition to the usual work of teaching, which includes some grading that needs to get done. I spent several hours on the task yesterday and cleared out one assignment, but there was already another one waiting, and I have yet another coming in today. Freelancing picks up again tomorrow, so I have a bit of leeway on that score, but I also have my own scholarship to attend to, including trying to put together another post for Travels in Genre and Medievalism (please go read it, and if you have any ideas, let us know). I have a notion about some music I'd like to write up, but the idea is as yet too nebulous in my head to take treatment. And there are always other papers to write, other pieces I am called to compile and create.

Somehow, of course, it will all get done as it should. If nothing else, I need to be sure that Ms. 8 has what she needs, and I cannot do that without attending to the work laid out for me; she is a powerful motivator, my little octopus. And I retain some hope that my efforts will allow me to find a position that enables those efforts yet better, that the work I do will help me to find more and better work to do (which sounds silly, I know, but there it is). I have to; the alternative would not exactly be a credit to the example set for me by today's birthday boy, and he deserves some credit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Freelance work continues, which is good because I need the money.

I have commented before (here and here, for instance) about the ways in which the freelance work I have been doing has expanded my reading repertoire. (It is an odd thing for someone who studies and teaches literature for a living would speak of such a thing or feel the need to do it, admittedly.) Although I cut my teeth on Asimov and read his Foundation corpus and Tolkien's Middle-earth corpus on a more or less annual cycle, and such works are increasingly part of the main stream of US popular culture (more the latter than the former, as it happens), and although such writers as Chaucer and Shakespeare and such works as Beowulf and Le Morte d'Arthur remain known if not exactly enjoyed by most, the stuff that I read and study* is not normally regarded as being really part of popular literature. What I read for my freelance work, however, is.

Most recently, I read for the freelance write-ups Gillian Flynn's 2009 Dark Places, and I found it strangely compelling. The protagonist is hardly a sympathetic character, although she is positioned such that she really should be; typically, the victim of substantial physical and emotional trauma evokes a level of pity almost inevitably associated with sympathetic portrayal, but such is not the case in the text. Instead, the character wallows in the effects of the trauma, not so much because she cannot surpass it as because she is unwilling to surpass it. She is offered ample opportunity, both in the narrative as it unfolds and in the presumed back-story, to seek help and find a way to navigate trauma so as to enter more fully into the world and help herself to be more than the victim of circumstance. She repeatedly refuses, accepting her status as acted upon throughout the text and only loosely moving into being the actor.

Part of me recoils from the character, likely as a result of the deeply ingrained habituation of my upbringing and my participation in the main stream of US popular culture noted above. (Being defined as several ways Other** by that main stream requires engagement with it.) Another part recognizes the characterization as an echo, probably unintentional, of Donaldson's characterization of Thomas Covenant in the first three novels of his series. Still another part of me, likely that which has grown up as a result of my training in the academic humanities, reminds me that I do not have enough grounding in trauma theory to be able to untangle the understandings of horrific events embedded in and transmitted by Flynn's Dark Places. Having neither the situated ethos of having suffered trauma myself nor the invented ethos of long study of trauma as trauma and the effects it has on those who have endured it, I perhaps ought not to say so much about the presentation of it in text as I otherwise might.

Although I recognize that the last part of me is more likely correct than the first, I recognize also that the former will have much more currency in the prevailing culture of the United States. I can easily envision many of the people among whom I grew up, and indeed among whom I now live and among whom I lived in The City, seeing such a person as Flynn's protagonist and thinking "Pull it together; something bad happened to you, yes, but you have to get over it and move on." I can easily envision them looking at her failure to do so and seeing only weakness that deserves condemnation. Perhaps there is something in the novel that seeks to force upon the reader the question of how to handle such people as Flynn's protagonist, people who are shaped by their circumstances in ways that they cannot or will not set aside and yet unfit them for "normal" life. Or perhaps there is something in the novel that uses the protagonist to frustrate what "normal" means. But most readers will not seek for such a thing; they will see instead that the work thwarts the easy and comfortable expectations they have as a result of reading repetitions in the genre, and they will turn aside from it utterly.

I did not, though, not only because of the paycheck, and I am glad of it.

*I am well aware that the study of literature is fraught, that many will suggest it is not worth studying at all, and that others will chafe at the inclusion of Asimov and Tolkien alongside Chaucer and Shakespeare. Tolkien generates quite a bit of scholarship, including what I curate here; Asimov prompts somewhat less, although he ought to get more, since he was himself an academic. And I maintain that the rejection out of hand of "popular" work by scholarly bodies is a large part of what prompts the rejection of scholarly bodies by the readership of "popular" works.

**I am aware also that my Otherness is less in scope and scale than the Otherness imposed on, well, others. I make no claim to being particularly or especially excluded / abjected. I have a small taste of it, though, and I can make inferences about its extrapolation, perhaps.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


To what end all this?

To what end the daily writing,
Online to few views and little money,
Offline to little readership and less money?

To what end the work of research,
Or what the humanities calls research,
Reading what has been written,
Trying to find out what was going on at the writing
And what it may mean now?

To what end the work of teaching
When students value credentials over knowledge
And know that they will be more successful without,
The next Zuckerberg or Jobs,
When they do not want their minds opened,
For they look at those who have perhaps begun to do so,
Those who look at things deeply,
Who plumb their meaning,
And see no smiles on their faces,
When they see no sense in any of the knowledge
And see no sense in learning how to get it
For there is no way ahead as they define it?

Friday, November 7, 2014


The irony
Of students at state supported schools
Schools set up by national law
The land-grant schools
Complaining of government overreach
Of federal programs going against Constitutional dicta
Remains a hammer to my forehead

No wonder I cannot get a raise

Clearly, I have failed and continue to do so

Thursday, November 6, 2014


This span of November, the first couple of weeks of it, is rife with birthdays. Mine was Election Day. A cousin and a friend share Guy Fawkes Day. My father's is just before Veterans Day. This tells me something about when people enjoy one another's company. It also reminds me to celebrate as autumn gathers and winter begins to threaten some parts.

And I have been celebrating, although I have not celebrated all events on all days. My wife and I did celebrate Día de los Muertos, harkening back to our Texan upbringing (we both grew up in the state, although neither of us was born in it) and her deep Hispanic heritage; we set out ofrendas and prayed. Whether we were heard, though, I do not know; I do not know how well I can claim to know my own dead, and I never met or little met most of hers.

I celebrate, too, such small triumphs as are given to me. That I continue to have work to do, and that it continues to pay a bit, eases me, if only a little. That I continue to be called upon to help with things does, as well; I appreciate being told thusly that I am valued (although I would not mind being told by a raise or a continuing line job).

I celebrate greatly the continued development of Ms. 8, who grows daily and commands more of herself. She crawls proficiently, now, and her babbling is beginning to show patterns. So do her gestures, which my wife and I are figuring out. Being able to understand what she asks for and thus provide it more efficiently is helpful; it reduces the frustrated crying for needs of food and diapering. But that does not mean she gets all of what she wants. That would be irresponsible of me, and with as much as I have complained at such irresponsibility in others...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Yesterday, after I came home from voting, I read Michael Mark Cohen's 12 October 2014 article "Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We've All Been Waiting For." In it, Cohen argues that the term "douchebag" serves many of the same functions as racial epithets--only applied to the typically unmarked position of privilege occupied by white, heterosexual men of the upper and middle classes in the United States. To do so, he provides and explicates examples of usage, including historical attestations, and links the lot to the more commonly understood epithets that still get bandied about. While the argument is not likely to gain cultural traction, it is composed well and convincing as a loose description of the deployment of the word "douchebag" as a slur.

Something that might tighten the fit of the description to the term would be a larger study. It is true that Cohen does not pretend to be comprehensive or even expansive in the work that informs his article; he situates it in discussions from classes he has taught and some reading in earlier popular culture, and it is published in an easily accessible format, so it is not to be expected that the piece will display the same level of rigor that should attend on more formal academic treatments. But such a treatment would be welcome; having the more thoroughly researched historical context and the more representative surveys of usage that such a treatment would entail would do much to illuminate the phenomenon.

That illumination would serve to highlight more of the intertwined class and race stratification and tension that continues to pervade the US (and likely will increasingly do so in the wake of the 2014 elections). It would offer some answer to those few who are unconvinced that academic study can be relevant but are not solidly set in the notion that it cannot be relevant; in showing what people do and how what people do works, it would necessarily open the way for some kind of corrective to the problems it would necessarily identify. (Admittedly, this would only be for those who are willing to accept the results as valid and who see their own complicity in the problem, which is far too small a set of people.) And that has value.

Also of value in the piece is what it shows about the worth of the physical classroom. The underlying impetus of the article comes from a classroom event the author describes. Such an event cannot occur through the mediation of a computer screen, whether in the pseudo-synchronous environment of ongoing chat or the asynchronous (and far more common online classroom) environment of message boards; it can only come through the direct, face-to-face interaction of teacher and student. Although the specific event in question may be small, it is representative, and it is of small advances that growth in knowledge is made. More such explorations need to happen, far more now than in the past, and it is in the physical classroom that they occur. That Cohen's article points to such a thing is perhaps the best point, among many good ones, it makes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Yes, I will be voting today.

No, I am not at the polling place...yet. It does not open until 7, and it is raining; I figure I'll have a cup of coffee before I try to get over to vote. And since I am sitting down anyway...

I will not be making the same mistake as happened last year around this time. This time, at least, I am not helping so much to perpetuate practices of governance with which I disagree and which I find in many cases to be reprehensible. If they continue, it will be above and despite my specific and explicit objection.

I remember comments from some four years ago, and I am not happy with how things happened. They have worked against me and not always with much intermediation; my layoff was occasioned in no small part by the contraction of funding available to the least advantaged college students to be found. The bastards have voted against me, and this time, I will be returning the favor.

I will therefore be voting today. I will very much be voting today. While it may not "matter" that I do, for I share some of the doubts of my colleagues that things will change for the better rather than remain in the willfully ignorant rut into which they have fallen, and I know that my tacit complicity in atrocity will continue maugre my head because I continue to participate in systems that perpetuate oppression and reinforce the social stratification that facilitates it, it is at least something I can do to try to make things a little bit better.

And, again, when things falter and fail, I will at least have the small and petty satisfaction of being able to say with all honesty "I told you so."

Monday, November 3, 2014


Unusually, I woke from a dream this morning.

In it, my wife and I were flying somewhere, and I had forgotten something. I left the secured area at our connecting airport, rented a car, and drove to where I knew I could get it--the town in which I grew up, which I reached in the dark and rain of a Friday evening. I drove by the county courthouse and saw preparations underway for an event I know goes on many months' last Saturdays, and I ended up parking the car and slogging ahead on foot. The event operators called out to me, and I ignored them, pressing on, until I saw sheriff's deputies arrive. Then I ran back to the car I had rented, which the event operators were having the deputies search; I made to intervene and was grabbed by a stereotypical caricature of a cop--in uniform with mirrored sunglasses and a moustache modeled after those of Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. Then I woke--three minutes before my alarm was set to go off.

I will not again belabor the point of the oddness of my recalling that I dream or what I dream. And I will not seek to explicate today's dream, at least not today. (I rather suspect that it indicates a boundedness to my life and perceptions that I am uncomfortable approaching.) What I will do instead is note that the dream and its oddity point up the intrusions of the absurd into perception. Were I to include such a passage as narration in the main text of a story rather than framing it as events dreamt, I would be derided (and rightly so) as throwing together words in random sequence, as imposing nonsense upon a story. I might be lauded for working to connect the disjunction of insanity to sanity, but only by few, and those quietly. (I might note, now that I think on it, that the geography of the dream does not correspond with the geography of the events; I was not flying through either of the airports that can be reached easily from my childhood home.) It violates rules of sense and customs of narration that have grown up for centuries, and while adherence to tradition is not itself necessarily a promise of quality, it does lend itself to attracting the attention necessary to prove quality.

It is the kind of thing I have been having to discuss with students in my literature class: what makes literature good? Mostly, I have been fighting against the student tendency towards surface-level relativism, the conceit that "Literature is what you make of it" used as a way to excuse a failure to engage with text on its terms and wrestle meaning from it. There is some truth in the base assertion, of course; as art, literature will work variously on various people. But that does not mean that it is not to be examined--and that does not mean that the examinations which yield less-than-optimal results should be ignored. Nor does it mean that the matter is closed...

Sunday, November 2, 2014


She was a good dog.
That is all.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


I normally do not do this. I normally post a piece of some 500 words. This ought to count for two, then.
Ms. 8 in an entirely appropriate costume ought to be enough.