Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Today is payday. As such, it is once again "pay the bills day." That particular task is done, and there is still a little bit of money left, which is good. It is only a little bit, though, which is less good, and there is no real way for me to get more in between now and nearly the end of the month, which is less good yet. (The way freelance money gets to me is a bit odd and has a monthly limit I have already reached--but it resets after the third week of the month.) There is, in theory, money coming in from job interviews, reimbursement for mileage, but that is moving far more slowly, and I dare not count it until I have it in hand and in my accounts...so, yeah, that is how the money is at the moment.

Other things are at the moment better. I have a freelance piece in progress, one with which I am nearly done. It is not the largest project I have had, but I do not turn up my nose at the money it will bring. That I completed yesterday has been accepted and paid for, so when I can again claim my money, a little bit more will be waiting for me. I am also poised to put in for another job or two, as well as to apply for a bit more travel funding so that I can more easily make my way to Kalamazoo (and I *really* ought to get to work on the paper for it; I should have time this week, since grading is minimal--itself a better situation than many others). That the situation is as it is, and not worse than it is (as it has been), is some comfort.

Also of comfort are the continued adventures of Ms. 8. (The Adventures of Ms. 8 seems like it ought to be some kind of series.) Yesterday evening, as she was crawling along, one of her hands slipped and her face made somewhat forceful contact with the floor. As it happened, she bit the inside of her lip, which scared her more than it hurt her, I think, and did not have her mother or me at ease. We got her calmed down soon enough, though, and she returned to her usual laughing and babbling for a while, until it was time to put her to bed for the night. The comfort to be found here is not that she fell or that she was bloodied and afraid, and it is not in the certain knowledge that the day will come when parental love and concern cannot set aside the pain and fear she feels, but that she rebounded from them. It is a small thing, yes, but she is a small person as yet. I have hope that her resilience will scale up as she and her challenges do.

Weather at Sherwood Cottage continues to reflect the season adequately. It was in the mid-50s when I checked last; it should get to the lower 80s today. Were I inclined ever to wear shorts (other than in a gym), I might think about putting them on...

Monday, March 30, 2015


I have the feeling that this is going to be a good day. I have already knocked out a short freelance piece, and the money I had had coming from earlier freelance work has found its way to me. I am on my second cup of coffee for the day, and I look forward to several more (at least one more before I leave Sherwood Cottage for work today). The day's teaching is already planned out; I know more or less what I am going to be doing with my students today and for the rest of the week, so I have little about which to worry in that regard, although I have yet to set up the paperwork for the events. Payday will be tomorrow, so I have something to which to look forward. The weather promises to be pleasantly spring-like, so that I will have a nice walk to the office and drive afterwards, when the Mrs. picks me up from work so that I can drop her off at it.

I am glad that the day looks to be a good one. I get more done on good days than on bad, and I need to get things done. Grading is at least temporarily in abeyance, since I managed to clear my docket of it yesterday and another graded assignment is not due until Friday (and I need not look early at anything submitted early), so that particular time-sink is not in evidence. The job search is winding down for me; I have only a few applications left on my desk to review, and those jobs may no longer be live, but I shall check up on them. Of more pressing importance are issues for conferences. The deadline for SCMLA submissions is tomorrow, so there is still a little bit of time left to get ideas to me; see this. I will soon be wading through such submissions as I have to put together a panel. Also, there are things to do for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, for which I will be quite busy, as I am presenting a paper and presiding over a panel and a roundtable. I probably also ought to be seeing about hosting a business meeting of some sort, although that will need coordination with others...guess what I will be tending to.

I do not complain, though. This is the work to which I have devoted myself for some years, and I am glad to have the opportunity to do more of it. It may be helping me to secure a more stable job even now, and if it is not doing so directly, it is at least strengthening my ability to get said job in the next cycle. (I may well be drafting paragraphs to insert into later letters as a way of hedging my bets. I hope not to need them, but I would rather have them and not need them than the reverse.) And I do enjoy the work I do...most of the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


It comes to my attention now that today is Palm Sunday. We have not been particularly observant since leaving The City; we are not likely to find our way to services today, or really any other day, for reasons I will not discuss at this time (it will be better to treat the topic individually). But I suppose that it makes sense that the Mrs. and Ms. 8 and I will be staying home today. We do not need palm fronds for what we celebrate; our oak leaves more than suffice. Those we have do more for us than slivers of palm frond passed out in haste before processionals begin. And I suppose that that statement bears a bit of explanation.

It has been some months since my wife and I marked five years of marriage. Traditionally, the anniversary gift to accompany that year is to be made of wood. What my Mrs. and I decided to do was to plant a tree. (There are several metaphors in that.) What ended up happening was that she and I picked up some acorns while we were out walking one day and planted them. Presently, there are two little sprouts of oak tree emerging from a pot on a bedroom dresser. One is a foot tall, its green leaves unfurled and soaking in the increasing springtime sun; the other is just breaking the surface of the soil, soon to open its leaves. The Mrs. and I are glad to see both, and we look forward to one day planting one or the other of them in the yard at a forever home, where it and we can grow together and root ourselves firmly in place. And perhaps, in some future we can only now hope to see, we will give an acorn from that tree to Ms. 8 when she has been married for five years, or to other children who may yet come.

Thoughts of it return me to an older discussion, one which I addressed in this webspace after consultation with valued friends. Since leaving my parents' house, I have not lived in a place sufficiently mine that I would plant a tree in it and expect to sit under its shade or give gifts from it to a married daughter. I expand into the places I occupy, using them to externalize my interiority as best as I can, but I have not done so in a way that I have not been sure to be able to withdraw back into myself in my adult life. While I am aware that true permanence is an illusion, it is one frequently comforting, and I would weave it about myself if I could. Circumstances currently prohibit it, but I remain hopeful that they will change such that I can make a place for myself and for my family, offering to Ms. 8 especially a base from which to build her own life in the years to come.

The oak does more than the palm for such solidity, I think.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


The grass springs up
A few blades amid clover
It will need mowing soon
Once the ground dries out a bit

For now
The mower would sink in
And I need to get it tuned up

Little blooms are nice upon which to look
I appreciate them
And what they portend
But I am bound to maintain things
In certain ways
And I will have to do so soon

Not yet
But soon

Friday, March 27, 2015


There are a number of things I am looking at updating as I move forward. Some of them are ongoing endeavors. My CV is perhaps the easiest example to find. It updates more frequently than my resume, largely because I focus on being a professional academic, and the materials of my resume do not change as much as they otherwise might. I am also looking at revising my teaching philosophy yet again. It needs to be updated, and more than just the refinements to phrasing that comprised the last revision of it. And there is the continuously delayed work of revising my dissertation for publication; I know I need to do it, but I also need to do other things, and those other things usually push the dissertation revision aside. The allure of the paycheck is strong, after all...

I have to wonder if what I have written in previous years also needs renewed attention. Take, for example, my posts to this webspace on this date in years past--2012 and 2014 are on record. In the former, I discuss bombast, titles, and contingency among teachers of professional writing. I do not know if the way I have talked about bombast with my students in the past is something I can continue--the relevance of the source through which I have tended to discuss the concept is fading with the passage of decades, and there is always the concern that the interaction of the demographics I occupy and the demographic stereotypes the source invokes will prompt complaints of various -isms on my part. Titles and contingency, though, still come up--and the latter may still be a thing to do with my classes. I will have to look over the article again.

The post from last year, a short and likely inept poem about cats in the lives of humanities scholars, perhaps ought not to be revisited so much in its actual form as in the idea presented in the last stanza. I do remain confused by the association of the aloof and dismissive feline with the humanities scholar stridently seeking validation amid prevailing social disdain, and that despite having three cats in the house. I am all the more confused when I hear from my colleagues of the ways in which their cats interfere with their work and lives, whether by eating articles of clothing or by sitting on keyboards and stacks of papers to read and assess or, as in the case of a long-ago friend, pissing on books and other things that make the scholarly endeavor possible. The Work is already enough of a challenge without adding to it feline intervention, Ceiling Cat or Basement Cat or something in between.

It is good to return to ideas now and again. They need to be revisited and interrogated to see if they still hold. Too often, people refuse to do so, accounting for many of the peculiar idiocies that pervade the world. And I am likely as bad about it as anyone else...

Thursday, March 26, 2015


While the weather was wild in the area around Sherwood Cottage, at the place itself, we saw only rain and wind. All is well here, and we hope that all is soon well for those for whom it is not well at present.

I have remarked on my relative lack of diligence in pursuing my writing in this webspace. Last year, I had at this point not missed a day of blogging, and I have to hope that the persistence of practice allowed me to improve my writing. That I have not been getting the same practice this time around, either in this webspace or in my pen-and-paper journal, therefore worries me; I have to consider that my skills will atrophy to some extent, much as they have in regards to the jiujutsu, judo, and aikido I have studied, or the music I once looked to to guide my future career. It is the same kind of foreboding I recall from a year ago today (and Happy Should-Have-Been-Birthday, Ms. 8!), the same kind of omen-reading that I have been chastised for indulging in before. I really ought to know better, but I retain something of the mindset that looks for portents in all things.

On the topic of Ms. 8: She is currently sitting in my lap, drinking her first milk of the day. I imagine that I will soon be giving her other food; a few ounces of milk is not enough for her, and it has not been for some time. She does watch with some interest as my fingers move over the keys, as funny marks are represented in pixel form on the screen we both stare at. I have seen her move her hands over the keyboard, as well, and I flatter myself that she is trying to mimic her father in doing so. I also worry that she is trying to mimic her father; there are behaviors of mine I would not see her repeat (and I am trying to excise them, but thirty-two years of habituation are not quickly undone), mistakes I have made that I would spare her. How successful I can be in such endeavors, I cannot know for some years yet, if at all. But I make the attempt, nonetheless.

In other news: Student evaluations are underway in my department. I shall be distributing mine tomorrow, and I am not certain if I am looking forward to reading the results as I have in the past expressed being. Some of the students are proving...difficult, and while I am doing what I know how to do to ease situations, I have reason to think the tactics are...ineffective, if not counterproductive. I am not sure how to proceed, really; I am inclined to withdraw to a cold professional civility, but I fear that that will also counter-conduce at this point. Perhaps I am in error.

I do not enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Where were you when the Dark Tower fell and the Ring Bearers were praised with great praise?

I have returned to Sherwood Cottage and my regular work of teaching from my little excursion afield in search of other teaching to do. The trip was productive; I feel relatively good about the interviews I gave and the attitudes towards me with which I left the interviewers. Their thank-you cards are ready to go out in the mail today (along with a couple of bills I had been holding until some freelance money released itself to me). I do still have a few other applications to see about, and I will have a mountain of grading to which to attend, as students have assignments coming in every day my classes meet this week--and they already met once while I was away. But I approach them with more hope and a lighter heart for the trip, because it may well be my turn to have the kind of good news I have happily heard from others of late.

On another note, the English I: Old and Middle English panel/s at this year's South Central Modern Language Association conference (in Nashville this time!) are still open for submissions. The official deadline is March 31; email abstracts to geoffrey.b.elliott@gmail.com or brian.brooks@okstate.edu on or before that day. You could also let other people know about it; you may have friends who are into that kind of thing, and we'd love to see them.

I am in the position of having written in this space on this day in the past--last year, in fact. (I have not been as diligent about keeping up with this webspace this year, for which I apologize.) While I do not have jury duty hanging over my head at present--which I appreciate--I remain convinced of the position I take against skipping days. Even when I have good reasons to be away--civic service or attempts to find a way to make a better life for the Mrs. and Ms. 8--I am displeased to face the catching-up I have to do when I return from being away. I am relatively fortunate this time that I have only the grading to do today and tomorrow; my students have an in-class exercise that will take up the class, so I do not have to plan a lesson. And I do think that the interview yesterday was a better use of my time than the grading I would likely have been doing alongside addressing Ms. 8's needs while her mother worked, but it is still not so easy to face two stacks of papers with a good attitude. It is something on which I evidently still need to work...

Monday, March 23, 2015


The morning finds me in a hotel, waiting for breakfast in advance of the first of two job interviews I have in two days. There are few people about; indeed, I have only seen hotel staff as yet today. It is somehow eerie, and I think that this is in some ways what it is like to be wealthy, to be alone save for those paid to be of service amid plenty. I am not cut out for the experience, I think. It sits oddly with me.

Th eplenty does, at least. The feeling of being largely isolated is long familiar, as I imagine is the case for others who study as I have and still do. The humanities conduce to being away from others, the mind-work involved admitting of little distracton of sociability. But breakfast has come...

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I found myself in an interesting position yesterday. I was able to complete the freelance piece on which I had been working (and I found out that, yes, it is being made into a movie, explaining why the text was brought to attention). I also got a couple of other things done along the way, and so I felt comfortable taking a bit of a break. Several hours later, I pulled myself away from the computer game I had used to distract and, honestly, numb myself in an attempt to allow my mind to rest. I regret the experience mightily, and I seem to recall having regretted similar experiences before.

In part, the regret stems from the insufficiently strong work ethic with which my upbringing and the training received in graduate school have equipped me. I should never not be working, after all, since the only value I have in the profession and in the world is in the work I do--or so the thinking goes. That such thoughts plague me does not stop me from stopping work, not only to answer the demands of the body for food and rest and the restroom breaks that eating makes needful, not only to attend to Ms. 8 or the Mrs., but to spend time idly, doing nothing or what amounts to being nothing. But when I do, I usually resume work or go to the night's rest thinking that I ought to have done more, that I ought to have spent my time better than I did.

"Better" here does not mean the kind of "better" I usually see deployed in such phrases. It does not mean "Go out and have fun" or "Live life to the fullest" (not that either of those actually means anything). It means "more productive," making more words that say better things (since I write and teach writing for a living and write to try to find a better living). It means that I ought to be working more than I am, rather than spending my time pointing and clicking blindly to make little gatherings of pixels erase other little gatherings of pixels, and still others grow and flourish according to algorithms I do not have the background or training to puzzle out. Or I should be reading the words that others have written, sifting through them for ideas which I can take up and use to foster yet others in that writing to make a better living previously noted.

In any event, today will be a bit of a break. I leave this afternoon for a two-day trip to sit for two on-campus interviews in two different states. I may, before I go, push out a couple more job applications; there are still a few forms sitting on my desk and staring at me. But it will be good to get in the car and go where I need to go to do what I need to do--and maybe a job offer will come of my doing so. I continue to nurture such hope.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


Once again, work continues. I picked up a freelance order yesterday, buying and reading the book I will be writing up today. I am not certain why the current text was selected; those I usually get are new releases by bestselling authors (see my comments about Steel and Patterson, for example) or books that are returning to prominence due to theatrical release (such as About Alice, which I treated not too long ago), and the one I am working on now is not, to my knowledge, part of ether category. Still, I am not complaining; the money is good, and the read was better than many I have had to do to earn that money.

Yesterday, I also managed to get a few things set up for my upcoming jobs expedition. There were a number of documents that needed to be created and produced, and I compiled and assembled them. They came out better than I had thought they would (note again that I am not complaining), and I nurture the hope that they will help me to secure a continuing line of employment that might possibly allow me the chance to return to work on my research in earnest. It has suffered against my work to keep the household finances intact, but the ideas the research allows me to express and support continue to press against the inside of my head, demanding release and treatment.

In years past, when I have had Spring Break--and I have not always had Spring Break; the school where I taught in The City did not have the holiday--I have often used it to write papers for classes or to work on larger research projects such as my master's thesis (which I may or may not try to revisit at some point). This time, I spent the days "off" on writing, certainly, but for freelancing and the job hunt. Both continue, of course, as I have noted--and the latter will continue past that, with several more applications still waiting for my attention. I am glad that the academic job cycle is drawing down, actually; I will be able to attend to other concerns since I will not have to work on drafting new letters and filling out page after page after page of HR forms, even if I do not get to leave the job market because I have landed a job.

Again, though, I nurture some hope. Two of my friends noted yesterday that they have managed to get jobs, another did a few days back, and another is approaching one, since the contract has already been signed; I am excited for them. Perhaps some of their good fortune will reflect onto me, allowing me to worry less about finding steady work and more about doing what needs to be done to keep it. It will still be worry, certainly, but it will at least be a new kind of worry, and one that has a better subject altogether.

Friday, March 20, 2015


I would first bring attention to this post on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. We can use more submissions (and I say "we" because I am chairing the session/s). If you or someone you know is interested in giving a paper in Nashville and has something to say about Old or Middle English...

So, today is a new moon, an eclipse, and the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere/autumnal equinox in the Southern. (There are people in the Southern Hemisphere. They ought not to be excluded.) At Sherwood Cottage, none are particularly relevant. We do not track lunar cycles, except perhaps as trivia for discussion. The eclipse will not really be visible from here, either. Spring has been present for a week or two, now, so the realignment of the world passes without notice. It is not as if there is a sudden re-greening today; it has been ongoing, and the front yard is awash in clover blooms. It is quite pretty, although it reminds me that I need to have my lawnmower serviced.

The backyard is less good. Last year, we had to have some plumbing work done, since not being able to use toilets, bathtubs, or sinks is a problem when there is no outhouse available and not enough plant cover to make an outhouse unneeded. (The weather also factored into the problem.) Much of the backyard was dug up in the work, and while various bits of green are now poking through the disturbed soil, parts of the yard have not been dry in months, and roots and debris emerge oddly from the ground. Tending to it does not look to be an enjoyable task, although it will need to be done, and it will likely need to be done soon. We have gotten rain this past week, and we look to get more before too long, if I recall correctly the forecasts I saw today.

I am not complaining of the rain. We need it, and badly; the rivers are low, and the things we eat and the things that what we eat eat need the water. Too, rain makes for better writing weather, and I have needed all the help with writing that I can get. (I am taking a bit of a break, though, given the need to prepare for the job interviews I have in the next few days.) But is also makes for yardwork, and, indoorsman that I am, I am not entirely thrilled at the prospect--even if the smell of freshly cut grass is a pleasure and an evenly cropped yard has other benefits to offer (among which is discouraging snakes from approaching the house too closely--and I have found snakes in the yard when I have not mown it as I ought).

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I find it increasingly difficult to be concerned about global affairs. I know I ought to be; they do bear in on my local life more and less directly, and they shape the kinds of things Ms. 8 will face in the years to come. As I noted yesterday, though, I find myself becoming more and more entrenched in a pattern of work that occupies my time and attention more or less fully. The immediate confronts me such that I cannot really attend to the greater affairs of the world--and I cannot meaningfully affect them in any event. I am, after all, an NPC, and not really one of the regularly occurring ones that fit major Jungian archetypes or narrative tropes (although I have been the recurring mentor figure). No, I am the nameless flunky in the back of the shot or the merchant visited once and never again.

This comes to mind not so much to provoke a pity party as out of a reflection on the reading I have been doing for the freelance work. For the most part--although not exclusively, I admit--the works of popular mainstream fiction I have been treating for pay (and thereby neglecting my research and perhaps some creative writing, work that might allow me to become either a higher-tier NPC or perhaps even a PC, but I have to get through the short term to make it to the long term for which I have been told repeatedly I must plan) focus on the deeds and doings of the socioculturally elite. Since most of what I have been reading for the freelance work is set in the United States, that means I have been reading about wealthy characters and their more privileged servitors, those who have the power and influence to set aside both law and prevailing morality (neither in the ways that they perhaps ought to be set aside, but in favor of the things that such strictures seek to prevent) and who enjoy the benefits of doing so. Some of them do end up suffering for their perfidy, but others do not--they frequently do not, in fact.

I have to wonder at the effect on the dominant readership. Claims of "they're just stories" will again arise, I know, but as I have noted and as others have noted more abundantly and eloquently than I, the stories we well and the stories we are told shape our perceptions of the world and thus the ways in which we interact with it. If we are told repeatedly that X type of person is a bad person, when we encounter an example of X type of person, we will react as though that person is bad--whether it is true or not. The reverse is also true. It is therefore well worth considering the kinds of stories we tell and the kinds of stories we are told, and how many and how often we tell and are told each. The worldviews we create for ourselves and with which we equip or burden our children arise from them, and it will not do to have us or them looking for the wrong kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Work continues to continue. I pushed through a write-up of Patterson and Karp's NYPD Red 3 (I do not recommend the novel) yesterday and woke to find another write-up order waiting for me. I am glad to be on break from my regular work this week; the opportunity for other earning is welcome. Now if I can just figure out how to get done the other things I need to get done this week, I will be in good shape. Having money is good. Having money and not having work hanging overhead is better--not least because it happens so much less frequently. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling the feeling.

I realize that I seem to repeat myself in this webspace. I often note that work continues and lay out the kind of work that I hope (and too often fail) to do in the day. I refer back to things I have said before, usually through linking but not always. And, too often, I whine and complain about things about which I have already whined and complained. I suppose that I come off as stuck in a rut--a bumpy rut that I travel on wheels not given much in the way of suspension. And I suppose that I am actually in some kind of a rut (or two).* My days follow (loose) routines, inept dancers rehearsing again and again for a show that will likely never be put on--and likely fortunately, given how poor the choreography is. Producer and director, I continue to seek funding while trying to make the show work the way it ought to, and I do not do as well as I ought to do at either.

Perhaps, though, I will be able to find a new venue soon, a new show in which I can perform and a new place from which to recruit for my own production. I am auditioning to that end, and I have a bit of preparation to do for the audition--although it will be more remembering what I have already done than learning a new routine altogether. And there are some few casting calls I have yet to answer but mean to; they are staring at me even now. It will serve me well to answer them; I may well get more callbacks than I have had thus far, and that is a good thing.

I happily stop along my well-worn track to answer them. For them, I can set aside the other work for a moment now and again. How could I not, since they offer me chances for higher billing?

*I seemingly cannot help either making a pun or explicating a piece of writing. Yes, I mean "rut" both in the sense of a worn-in track and in the sense of a mating season. Given my high school experience, a reference to deer comes off as oddly appropriate--as those who know me will know. Biographical criticism has its uses.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Yes, it is St. Patrick's Day, and yes, I am wearing green because, yes, I am, at least in part, of Irish descent. (I probably ought to mark St. George's Day, as well, since I am also very much of English descent. And it is possible I should note St. Andrew's Day, given the likelihood that there is Scot in my family history, as well. Maybe St. Boniface, too, although I am not as attuned to the sliver of German heritage I have as I am other parts of my background.) Yes, too, we will be having corned beef tonight, as well as cabbage and potatoes, with Smithwick's to drink and Baileys as an after-dinner cordial. Sherwood Cottage will have all of the "traditional" bits in place, indeed.

I find that I marvel at the way Irish heritage is celebrated now after a long and storied history of Irish oppression, from repeated imperialist and colonial imperatives enacted upon Ireland by England (which can be argued to continue in the existence of Northern Ireland) to indentureship in the American Colonies and the nascent United States and forward through persistent discrimination to the anti-Irish signs in storefronts (the existence of which as a prevailing practice in the United States is contested by Richard L. Jensen in the Journal of Social History 36.2 [2002]). Irishness becomes a celebratory veneer in many respects, at least to my eye, eliding the turbulent history of the concept, and it seems to me irresponsible not to remember that history--particularly if other historically marginalized groups are lauded for maintaining their own collective memories of oppression and denigration.

I am not saying that such groups should not. I am saying that there is a strange disjunction in how groups of people who have been persistently oppressed and discriminated against, historically and currently, negotiate their group identities and the coopting thereof by dominant groups. It at least strikes me as a strange one, and I end up participating in it, as noted above. I never order a black-and-tan, and parts of my family make much of some stereotypical features of Irishness to explain some of the members' behaviors, but of such things as the Pope-sanctioned conquest of Ireland by England and the centuries of grinding conflict that followed, or of the rapacity of landlords and famine in later years (read Swift, ladies and gentlemen, if you've not), little if anything is said--and that usually by me as a result of my studies. Nor are such things bespoken in mainstream media, certainly not to the extent of other oppressions that have been perpetrated--even if those oppressions are of lesser historical scope (i.e., occupying fewer years).

There is much to celebrate in Irishness, as there is in any ethnicity. But we do not do well to neglect remembering the suffering that the group--that any group--has endured. St. Patrick's Day is, after all, the commemoration of a death, and even a death that ostensibly leads to a better and more perfect life is still a thing to be mourned.

Monday, March 16, 2015


I realize that I am a little later than usual in writing this little piece. It is my break. I am ostensibly on vacation. I may be permitted to laze about a bit before diving back into things, I think.

That said, there are things to say. Ms. 8, the Mrs., and I took a little trip to the City of Thunder yesterday, enjoying the kindly spring weather as we crossed the re-greening plains between it and Sherwood Cottage. (Yes, I know it sounds like a fantasy novel write-up. You are invited to guess why.) There, we ran a few errands that we had allowed to pile up, including getting a couple of nicer shirts for me; since I have job interviews coming up, it makes sense that I have clothes worth going to them in. We also picked up a number of books for Ms. 8, including copies of some that I had had as a child. A good time was had by all.

In the evening, the Mrs. and I read a few of the books to Ms. 8, who seemed variously interested in and unaware of the efforts. I noted a few...oddities in them, things that I did not realize as a child and that would likely have occasioned no comment when the books were written and released but now strike me as strange. In The Poky Little Puppy, for example, the puppies' mother makes them chocolate custard for a dessert, which the eponymous puppy eats. Yet chocolate is poisonous to dogs. One has to wonder what kind of family dynamic is in place that has a mother make such things for her children. One has to wonder also what kind of metabolism the poky puppy possesses to eat a whole chocolate custard with no penalty.

Yes, I know "It's just a kids' book. It's just a story." We make meaning through stories. We tell stories to tell ourselves who we are and who we want to be. In some sense, we do not exist as thinking beings without them. Having such oddities in the stories we embed into our children's minds early on, then, has effects upon them--and, to those who will say "I had such stories, and I turned out fine"...did you? Did you really? Are you fine? Are you happy with it? Did your cohorts who also had such stories turn out fine? Is the state of the world as it is really a result of people having turned out fine?

I have had opportunity to consider such things.

The break is not a wholly removed thing; work continues, of course, and not only in such writing as I do here. More, the kind of thinking that underlies the work I do, the habits of mind and results of long practice that are about to allow me to make much of freelancing opportunities and that will help me get a few more job applications sent out (and maybe get a paper written), never stop. They are always with me, making the world more complex and, if at times more absurd, all the more engaging.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


I missed Ultimate Pi Day. I do not miss that today is the Ides of March. Prospective dictators for life, beware.

In a Pythonesque turn, I just read Danielle Steel's Prodigal Son--not from any great desire to read the book or books by the author, mind, but because I was paid to write a review, analysis, and summary of it. Such is the freelance work I most often do. Among the many comments made amid the over-extended exposition in the novel is one that ostensibly marks a turning point in the early life of the protagonist. (He--and it is, of course, a he--is not the most sympathetic character, really, being a Wall Street investment banker leading up to the 2008 crash. He is, in fact, part of the problem.) Interestingly enough, the turn comes as the result of actions by a high school teacher and an English professor. Despite the many, many problems in the novel, therefore, I have to concede that there is some reason for reading it (aside from the paycheck for me); the book quietly reaffirms the value of involved, engaged classroom instruction.

Not all media do, of course. A brief survey of public "debate" reveals great unease about teaching as a profession, frequent assertions of Shaw's adage about teaching, and outright hatred and anger (such as I have discussed before, if some years back). A more concrete discussion, and one more targeted at the professoriate in English, can be found in Timothy L. Carens's September 2010 College English article, "Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television." In it, Carens points out that the dominant portrayal of the English professor is as a predatory, exploitative figure, using the position to secure sexual favors from students until they surpass his (and, again, it is almost always a "he" who is the professor) critical abilities. In few if any cases are teachers noted for the advocacy they do for their students--unless it is by teachers themselves, who are then roundly decried by others in the "debate" as betraying their biases.

Steel does not follow suit in Prodigal Son. In the first chapter of the text,* amid a lengthy explication of the protagonist's personal history, the comments are made that a single high school teacher wrote a glowing recommendation for him to get into college and that an English professor made available both tutoring and the testing that identified a learning difference (thus offering an explanation for earlier academic troubles, themselves an impetus for behavioral difficulties). Clearly implied is that the combination of the two enabled the protagonist to enter into the financial field where he had, over twenty years, made much money for himself and his clients. While the argument can be made that, by enabling a character who has to be regarded as an active component in predatory financial practices that contributed to worldwide economic crisis and workforce dislocation, the teacher and professor under discussion are themselves complicit in the world's problems, the counterargument could be advanced that the protagonist himself suffers financial dislocation (and familial as a result) and so appropriately atones for his sins. The counterargument could also be made that tutors cannot be held to account for the actions their pupils take after the tutelage is done.

A stronger argument could be made, though, that by assigning to the protagonist--with whom the novel works to develop readerly sympathy and at least partially succeeds by the end--the benefit of the teacher and the professor, Prodigal Son tacitly validates the experience of the classroom. It reiterates the positive influence that one or two engaged instructors can have in the lives of students--even amid systems that do not always or even often conduce to instructor engagement. And because it does so in a mass market production likely to have substantial reach--the Amazon.com page for the novel offers glowing statistics for its purchase and readership--it is likely to spread that message to many, perhaps serving in some small way as a corrective to the prevailing disdain for the profession of teaching. I partake of it yet, as I have made obvious, and I will take any help I can get.

*I suppose I ought to note that the copy of the text I read for work is an electronic one, so pagination is unstable and thus inappropriate for citation.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


I am on Spring Break, although, as I have noted, it will not be much of a break. Today, for example, I will be putting together several thousand words for pay, and during the week, I expect to have more such words to write, as well as some job applications left to send out and interviews for which to prepare. (Fortunately, I will be treating much the same materials in the interviews, so I will be able to prepare a short version and a long version of a single lesson for my teaching demonstrations.) I probably ought to get a paper or two written, as well, although I will admit that that will take a bit more doing, happening alongside the other things I need to do. (That said, I do need to get the papers written. If I am going to be moving along to a tenure-line job, or if I am going to continue to seek it, I need to have more publications out--and not the kind that the freelance work earns me.)

The weather around Sherwood Cottage seems to suit the spring celebration, though. Temperatures are largely comfortable, neither too warm nor too cool, and the recent rain has lent a freshness to the outside air that even I, indoorsman that I am, find agreeable. Birds have begun to sing again, and the trees that bloom are beginning to do so. This means, of course, that allergies are beginning to act up, and I think Ms. 8 has one or more of them with which to contend. I know the Mrs. does, as do I. The oak is yet to spread its seed through the air, but that firm and gnarled wood will soon do so, and that moneyshot scene is not one in which I wish to star, certainly not as the receiver.

I am always able to find the cloud behind the silver lining, after all.

That does not mean, though, that I do not recognize the silver. It will be good to have a bit narrower a focus for a time and perhaps to get a bit ahead on the work that is mine to do. It will be good also to rely less on artificial sources for the comfort of my personal climate and open the house to the world for a time. It is cheaper, for one, and it helps to blow out the stink that a winter largely sequestered and with the windows filmed over against the draft and in the hope of creating just a little bit more insulation inevitably provokes. I expect to do both in the week before I must away for job interviews and the few days after until I return once again to the work of teaching. Hopefully, the students and I will all be refreshed therefrom.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Exercising privilege
I thought myself into the place of the triskadekaphobe
Or tried to
And considered whether it would be better
To stay home
Or go away

The latter seems better

If the fear is that
Things will go wrong
Because the day is cursed
And is cursed at
Then it seems that having things go wrong
Is better than having things go wrong
At home

Is supposed to be
A place of refuge
The place to which retreats are made
And not the place from which they are made

Nightmares befalling the waking at home
Contravenes that
Abrogates it
And that is worse than work being bad
Since work is often bad

Twain knew it
Work consists of what a body is obliged to do
And obligation connotes a burden
Not always joyfully borne

Get to work, then.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Work continues, of course. Classes are gearing down for Spring Break, which is a mixed blessing; the break will be welcome, and not just for them, but it does make the few days remaining until the break more annoying. We are not done yet, but they do not want to work anymore. Many of them have never wanted to work, looking at my classroom as being just another set of hoops through which to jump on the way to credentialing. Despite my efforts to tie the materials to their future lives and make my teaching engaging, this is so. It is so despite my no longer teaching at a technical college, during which work I addressed the issue. What to do...

That the break will be welcome does not mean that I will be taking time off. Instead, I will be working otherwise than in the classroom. I have been told by a freelance client that a number of write-ups will be waiting for my attention, and so I will be attending to them. I also hope to work on one or more papers that have needed my writing, and I will be preparing for job interviews, since I seem to have them coming up. (I am happy about the last. They offer hope for a continuing position.) So I will be every bit as busy as I normally am, although perhaps with slightly different tasks than I usually have.

The Mrs. will also be working, perhaps pulling in more hours and thus more money. We can certainly use it, as we do still have a baby at home. We are no longer buying formula, which is helpful, but diapers still cost quite a bit of money, and Ms. 8 is not quite to the point of eating all of the same foods her mother and I eat. I know that I do poorly to hope for various parts of growing up, but I am looking forward to no longer having to change diapers and spoon-feed pureed foods out of jars. I am looking forward, too, to having Ms. 8 tell me what is wrong rather than cry or scream incoherently as I try to figure out what the problem is and fix it in haste.

Writing offers opportunities for reflection, and sometimes the images that return to the eye strike it oddly and badly. Whether it is because the surface of the mirror is distorted and deformed or because that which it reflects is distorted and deformed is unclear; it is only through the mirror that the reflection can be seen, and only through the reflection that the thing reflected can be perceived. In some sense, it makes no difference which one is messed up; the image will be as it is in either event. But there are other reasons to try and figure out the truth...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


It never rains but it pours
As one old saw cuts it
And I stand amid the deluge
The wood that would perhaps make an ark
Pulped and processed differently

Another old saw:
Can't see the forest for the trees
When the trees are leveled
No forest remains
Can't see the forest if there are no trees

They have been harvested
Yet I am still benighted under their boughs
As I stand in pounding rain
Trying to carry out my own harvest
I do not know if I am succeeding

Monday, March 9, 2015


The struggle to return to some semblance of normalcy after the hour stolen for Daylight Savings Day continues...and I note with some interest the intersection, pointed out to me by many, of International Women's Day with the shortened day in the US (as well as the coincidence of Black History Month in the US with the shortest month of the year). That I had considered neither is a mark against me; I evidently have more learning to do, more work to do to recognize and critically interrogate the ways in which I am privileged, and more fighting against my defensiveness and feelings of guilt and shame about the matter to conduct. I doubt that I am alone in it.

Yes, I get defensive, or I begin to get defensive, about accusations of privilege. I view myself as having worked hard to get where I am in life, and I continue to work diligently to maintain my position and to try to improve it. When I hear people talk to me about privilege, part of me hears it as a dismissal of the effort I have expended and continue to expend, and that sits ill with me. I come from people who pride themselves on their hard work and work ethic, and that background (as well as the prevailing academic tendency to measure worth in terms of production of pages of research, which is work of a different sort altogether) ensures that tacit or explicit accusations of laziness do not sit well with me.

I know, however, that while I have worked and I do work, and I have not been so privileged as have many who are in my line of work,* I have been very much privileged in other ways. I do not have to worry about whether or not I will encounter people who are, in at least many respects, like me. I do not have to worry about seeing my demographics represented, or represented in plenitude, or represented in variety; I do not have to worry about seeing versions of me deployed as tokens only, surface-level motions toward inclusivity. I do not have to worry about whether or not those who are like me will be depicted as heroes--they may also be villains, yes, but they are also villains. More, I do not have to worry that I will be pulled over by police for driving the wrong kind of car or driving in the wrong neighborhood. I do not have to worry that I will be assumed a criminal because I wear a hoodie one day--or that I will be shot for having my hands in its pockets. I do not have to worry that I will be sentenced more harshly because of the color of my skin. I do not have to worry that, if I am assaulted, it will be because "I asked for it" in how I dressed that day. I do not have to worry that if I am sexually assaulted (and I am not conditioned, as many others are, to worry about being sexually assaulted) I will end up pregnant and possibly have to suffer through a pregnancy I did not want and could not anticipate. All I really have to do is worry about whether or not I will be able to make enough money to live the way I want to live and work to earn or otherwise acquire that money.

It is a privilege.

*Donna Dunbar-Odom discusses the issue eloquently in Defying the Odds. Catharine Olive-Marie Fox does so as well, albeit with a different perspective, in "Toward a Queerly Classed Analysis of Shame: Attunement to Bodies in English Studies" (College English 76.4 [March 2014]).

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Daylight Savings Day has come again, as it continues to do for some damned fool reason. It has been a vexation to me in years past, occasioning a failure to do as I said I would and a lampoon of the epideictic coupled to a screed against the practice. I have once again fallen victim to it, as the timing of this entry should suggest--and not only am I late in writing now, but I also slept in until what the clock told me this morning was nine. It is unusual for me, and it is not entirely to the good, for I have much to do today. There is a freelance order to complete (working on them occupied much of my time yesterday), and I have assignments to grade for my students. The latter is more imperative at this point, as it has been most of a week since they were submitted, and another assignment is due to come in tomorrow; I do not want to have that much grading hanging over my head, not least because it does distract me from the other things I need to do.

Among those other things is a refiguration of my teaching philosophy, since I am getting the kind of interviews that ask for such documents and it has been a bit more than a year since I last amended mine. Freelance work is also among the things I need to do, as ever; the allure of the money it brings in is difficult to resist, and I do not think it is actually worth the effort to refuse it. I have bills to pay, after all, and I nurse some hope that I may want to have nice things again at some point. At some point, too, I may want or need to retire--but that is a long-off thing unless I luck into wealth early on, and that is not likely to happen. I probably ought also to continue my job search, looking for permanent positions, and there is still a short stack of announcements on my desk that awaits my attention. I have been looking in earnest for a while, though, and I am ready to be done for a while. For my research still needs attention, as well, and I have not been giving it where it is due.

This is not to say that I have not been writing. My freelance work is almost all writing, and I have been doing a fair bit of it, as noted. Grading involves a fair bit of writing, as well, since what I grade are papers of various sorts, and I do not subscribe to the old idea of simply slapping a grade onto a sheet of paper and having it suffice. If the idea is to coach the students to write better, I have to make comments--although I likely need to rethink some of the ways in which I do so, both for my own ease (since I have other tasks and grading takes much time) and for the benefit of the students. Too often, they evidence feeling trapped into programmatic, dogmatic methods--as do I, since I am not much in a position to alter course sequences and obligatory assignments. There is only so much I can do, though, only so hard that I can work on that task; I am mortal and thus limited, and there are other things I must do, as well.

Friday, March 6, 2015


The weather looks like it should be warming
I am not sure I believe it
It has made the suggestion before
Week after week promising
Temperatures would rise
Saying we should sing a reverdie
"Sumer is icumen in"
And all that

The vocals were discordant
They soon trailed off
As snow fell where it had not before

We are prompted to lift our voices again
I will not be the first to do so
My singing is off-key, anyway

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Snow did fall yesterday, although not for many hours after it was called for, and not in such quantities as choked the streets with frozen water. My wonderful wife and I were able to go to the grocery store with ease yesterday evening, driving in the dark when the weather should have been worst without difficulty--because it was not so bad. Today seems to be colder, but the sun is shining and the streets seem to be clear; the school is open again, but since I am not scheduled to teach today, I end up with another day away from work. Since yesterday was a day away from work, I was able to get a freelance piece pushed through without trouble, so today I have a short one on my docket, after which I will see about pushing out some job applications and trying to catch up on my reading.

I am still behind on my reading.

I am also slightly behind on my grading. My students submitted a major assignment on Monday, and while I told them that I would not be rushing through grading it, the fact that I had an extra day away from work suggests to me that perhaps I ought to have bumped up my plans for reviewing the work my students do. The plan had been to attend to it this weekend, and I do still have that intent. The work ethic with which I was raised and which was further inculcated into me by years of graduate school tells me, though, that I should still be working--even though I was working yesterday and will be working on other things today. Even when I am working, I need to be working more--something with which my academic friends will be familiar, I have no doubt.

And I am still behind on my reading.

I doubt that I will get caught up on the things I need to get caught up on today. The backlog of things on which I am behind is joined by new tasks that need doing, both professional and domestic, and others queue up daily. The situation is common, I know, and no more to be decried for me than for other people--perhaps less, honestly, since it is only my household and my paycheck that depend on my getting more done, and not the lives of others than my wife and Ms. 8. Important as they are to me, I know that they and I are infinitesimally small within the world, and that world is itself infinitesimally small within creation. I am working on finding the freedom in that revelation that others note having found, that nothing matters and so there is no reason to worry or fret.

I am still behind on doing so.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


It is once again that band-nerdiest of days, Sousa Day. I have marked the occasion before (here and here), as I do again today. I have not been a bandsman in a decade; I have hardly touched a horn in that time. Still, I am shaped by having had the experiences in the bandhall that I had, for good and for ill, and I am an inveterate punster, so march forth on March 4th with the requisite tune.

It is also a pseudo-snow-day at Sherwood Cottage. The college where I teach has called off classes against incoming inclement weather, a decision doubtlessly intended to help preserve student safety--and I cannot fault that. I cannot help but note, though, that there is not a drop of water on the ground where I am. When, after earlier snow days that saw the streets and sidewalks choked with ice (and such that even I lost my footing while outside), I spoke with others about school closings, I heard comments about the administration being rebuked for closing too early and giving a fine spring day to the students as a gift. I have to wonder if something similar will happen here, as well.

Since today seems to be a day for random notes, yesterday was another day that saw a strange spike in pageviews of this webspace. Some 442 views came in yesterday, a marked and welcome uptick from my normal counts. Since I have not monetized this space, I am not as pleased as I could be, but I decided against the monetization a while ago. I do not exactly have free speech here, since I do not own the webspace, but I am less encumbered here than monetization would allow me to be. And I have other writing that earns me pay, so I am not overly concerned about the potential loss.

About that paid writing: I pushed through a freelance job yesterday, for which I have already been paid in full. Another piece, smaller in scope, awaits my attention even now. I shall work on it presently--and so I have another reason not to complain about the pseudo-snow-day. Too, the Mrs. is getting to put in extra hours at the pharmacy, so there is even more money coming in to help the household meet its obligations. About that, I can complain, because I can complain about anything, but I should not, and so I am not going to do so.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Sherwood Cottage and its indwellers are returning to the semblance of normalcy they pull over themselves as a veneer to cover up whatever it is that lies underneath. Those here who work are returning to work along their normal schedules--which means that I will be spending the day moving among freelance writing, job applications, and taking care of Ms. 8, while my wonderful wife will work out in the world at a local pharmacy. The weather looks as if it will improve slightly for the day, with temperatures rising well above freezing and rain falling that is very much needed if perhaps annoying to have come down, although that will abruptly reverse itself all too soon; cold and snow are expected tomorrow. Since it is winter yet, it is unsurprising.

On the subject of job applications: I have sent out quite a few this year, whether counted as the calendar year dating back to this time last year, the calendar year dating back to the beginning of this year, or the academic year begun last fall. As nearly as I can tell from a brief survey of my personal files, I am well over 150, and there are still many on my desk waiting for my attention (although one less after last night). But I do not think I will be pushing through more of them once I get the current stack cleared. Applying for jobs takes time, even for me, and I have written so many job letters that the sheer dint of practice has made me quite adept at the task. Other demands press upon my time, including the many papers I have been putting off in favor of applying for jobs while I do the freelance work that helps pay my debts. I need to attend to them, and, in all honesty, the academic hiring cycle is tapering off for a while. (It is, at least, for continuing-line jobs; I have not been seeking temporary positions, admittedly.)

Note that this is not me giving up on the job search. Unless one of the horde of applications packets I have sent out returns a favorable result, and I end up taking a continuing-line job, I will be back on the academic job market soon after the next fall term begins, when postings are fresh and new. And I will occasionally dip my toe into the more mainstream hiring market, as well, since it is possible that my freelancing will begin to show up as worthwhile experience (since teaching writing, which involves a blasted lot of writing, does not show up as experience writing in the eyes of HR programs, for some fool reason). In the meantime, though, there are other kinds of writing that I need to do, other pieces that clamor for my attention and that I have too long neglected, and I really do need to see about getting them done. I will be seeing to them soon, and I nurse the hope that I am not too tardy in doing so.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Thoughts and prayers from those who offer such things are still welcome. The family concern that had occupied attention has passed, and since those who are closest to it have opened it up, I can, as well: at 8:32pm last night, my grandmother, Patricia Jean Bryant, passed away. She was 86 years old, and is survived by one son, three daughters, their spouses, eight grandchildren, one step-granddaughter, and several great- and great-great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, her sisters, her husband, one son, one grandson, and her brother. Per my mother's message elsewhere
Condolences can be sent to Kerrville Funeral home. No flowers please, Donations to :

Executive Women's Club,
Cancer Assistance Fund,
PO Box 290523,...
Kerrville, Tx 78029-0523 or to

Peterson Hospice
1121 Broadway
Kerrville, TX 78028 [sic]
will be greatly appreciated.

How else to react at this point, save with the bare, dry obituary information, is unclear. I might point out a few earlier posts to this webspace as being worth attention, given the circumstances. Others could doubtlessly say more and better.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


That I have been erratic in posting to this webspace recently, I know. The past few days have seen me ill, not gravely, but annoyingly and tiringly. Before that, I was busy--and, really, I still am, although being out of things for the past few days has left me at something of a loss as to what needs to be done now. And there are family concerns which I will note are present but I will not discuss in any detail--except to say that the prayers of those who pray and kind thoughts from those who believe such things can help will be most welcome, for they very much are.

One thing that comes to mind, though, and from typing the previous paragraph is the word "discuss." I had initially typed it as "discus" and started to move on from it when I noticed and corrected the error. It could serve as a teaching moment were it to happen where my students could see it, and I may well end up using it in a lecture if I am assigned a freshman course in the fall. For one, it serves as a warning that the spellcheck function cannot be trusted blindly. "Discus," after all, is a word, and given the way Standard American English (however defined, because there is not a single prevailing definition, not really) functions, it could even be a verb used oddly but sensibly in the context. Family business is generally not something to which to take a sporting disc, bluntly or finely, after all.

For another, it serves as a reminder that the small details of things matter. The presence or absence of a single s, a collection of pixels representing one letter representing one brief burst of sibilance, changes the meaning of the word and sentence entirely. It changes the sound of the word, at least in my mouth and ear, shifting the stress from syllable to syllable more than adding much in the way of a snake's speech to the word. And it makes easier the task of the reader in untangling the levels of meaning and representation that are encoded into every piece of writing, every utterance of language--for each is, in fact, an interpretive act. The choice of words used to describe a thing is a choice, thus a judgment made (and, admittedly, not always the best). Such judgments say much about the minds of those who evidence them.

But my judgment now is that I should go eat what my wonderful wife has cooked.