Sunday, May 31, 2015


A few days ago, I made a comment in footnote (footnotes, again), which I reproduce below:
Admittedly, all intellectual work is of this kind, meant to advance knowledge and serve as a place from which to develop more through critique and revision of it. The roundtable addressed the point to some extent, as I recall; we work to make things a little closer to truth, knowing that our work will be used by others to grow a bit closer yet. If things go as they ought, we will all of us be made obsolete.
Taking the quote out of context does change its sense, somewhat, but the basic idea is that scholarly work is an exercise in expected obsolescence. Those who do academic work do so in a manner that looks at what is currently known and argues that it does not suffice. Perhaps it is actually wrong. Perhaps the interpretations offered fail to account for new information. Perhaps new and better interpretive tools have been developed and need to be applied. But whatever the reason, what is now known is not enough; more needs to be known, and that necessarily means that what has been known heretofore is obsolete.

If it happens that scholarship continues, and that is not certain, then it is to be expected that the work being done now will be treated similarly. That is, those of us who are working now should anticipate that our own collection and interpretation of information will be superseded, used as a springboard perhaps but left far behind in any event. Our understandings will be found to be incomplete and insufficient, whether because we lack the tools to see what those who will have those tools will see or because something in who and what we are prevents us from looking where they will look who do The Work after we have ceased to do so. Some of us have already begun to see it in how we are cited, used as references to extend knowledge (meaning we did not go far enough) or used as standards against which to push in the effort to make new knowledge (meaning we were somehow wrong).

The thought could be a depressing one. The certain knowledge that we are not enough, that we will never be enough, easily lends itself to despair. Our best work will be surpassed, inevitably, and it will likely be forgotten entirely in the passing of years, buried in archives and never viewed again or fading away amid the background noise of the internet. "Þæs ofereode; þisses swa mæg," after all.*

It does not have to be, though. For if scholarship continues, and those of us who do it now are proven wrong as we have proven wrong those who have come before us, then we have the satisfaction that what we have done has advanced the sum of human knowledge and understanding, promoting a nearer approach to Truth, asymptotic though it be in a universe filled with phenomena that transcend our perceptive abilities. Without us, those who follow will have no place to which to proceed before striking out yet further. And if we are the places from which knowledge is extended, there is no shame or scorn in being the root or stock from which branches and leaves spread.

*Deor. Read it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Work continues, as it seems ever to do. Today, it will consist of my writing up a novel I bought and read yesterday; I am already a tenth of the way done with the write-up, at least in terms of word-count. (Yes, I get paid by the word--to a point.) The remaining ninety percent will depend on how cooperative Ms. 8 is and what the Mrs. does with her after she gets back from work (she has a half-day at her job today). Naptime for Ms. 8 is work-time for me, and home-time for the Mrs. is also often work-time for me. Such is life.

Something happened with that work yesterday that has not happened for me in at least a decade: I got a bonus. Seriously, the client for whom I have been doing the most work expressed appreciation by posting a bonus order for me, one with explicit instructions to simply paste random text. The bonus was not the largest, certainly, but it was most welcome, both because I need the money and because it is an expression of appreciation I have not often gotten directly. Those who work in the field know that teaching, particularly teaching in the "worthless" or "service-course" humanities, is not the most rewarded of professions--at least not at the time the teaching takes place. Yes, some students shake hands and say "Thanks" on the way out, but they are relatively few against those who show up late, leave early, and complain about doing poorly therefore. And they are few against the legion of administrators and legislators who demand more work with less support, even as they draw more resources to themselves and their aims to stay in positions where they can draw resources to themselves and to their aims. To have gotten a thank-you that was more than merely words--which are often offered because they are cheap--was therefore an unusual event for me, and one most welcome.

I do not expect to receive a bonus; I know it is a gift, which is why I appreciate it so much. I do expect to be paid for the actual work I do, though, and I wonder why that would be a surprise to people; I can already hear objections that I ought only to do the work that I love. Unfortunately, such work does not pay the bills (and those bills and their necessity is a discussion for another time and place); were I able to treat the work as it ought to be treated, I would have many fewer students, because I do not want to have them in my class who do not want to learn, and many who take the classes I am assigned to teach do not want to learn--at least not when they are in my classes. The job is as it is, though, and I know how it is and remain in it even so; perhaps I ought not to complain. Then again, we do not fault the bricklayer for complaining about the sore muscles that inevitably result from the work done, nor the plumber, nor the electrician...

Friday, May 29, 2015


Payday has now come again.
My poverty has found no end,
For bill collectors, no one's friend,
Have with the payday come again.

Money flows like water, free
To trickle from my hands and flee
Into a stream and to a sea
Wholly owned, but not by me.

Another payday will soon come
Because I labor long. No bum
Am I to work not for the sum
That I expect from my work done,

But I'll not have the money long.
It is a child to the song
The Hamlin piper, blowing strong,
Has ever played. It still draws on.

The piper must be paid, of course.
Refusal will be met with force
And rhetoric that soon grows coarse,
Words that have no single source

But spring from voices all around
Until the world shakes from the sound,
Ringing from the air and ground.
There is no respite to be found.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Regular readers of my entries to this webspace will doubtlessly note that I do not seldom make use of footnotes in my blogging. Three of the ten entries that immediately precede this one deploy footnotes, for example, with one of them offering two notes. A quick look back shows me ten footnoted entries in the last, oh, seventy. While in terms of pages, the rate of footnoting is perhaps low, it does seem to me to be high for blog entries; I read a fair number of blogs, and I do not see so much footnoting in them as I put in mine. Why others do not use them more frequently, I am not certain; I am not going to speak to that. What I will address, though, is why I tend to use them.

My use of footnotes springs from two sources. The first is my trained academic background. The second is the tangential way in which I tend to think (and the kind of writing I do in this webspace, as in the written journal of which I have been neglectful of late, reflects initial thoughts more than studied consideration and long revision, both of which admittedly yield better prose than what I tend to put here and in my written journal). As far as the academic background goes, I have made no secret of being trained in large part as a scholar of the medieval. As befits such training, as I continue my professional development, I make a point of reading a number of journals, including Speculum and others that make abundant use of footnotes, albeit for different purposes. Many of the scholarly books which I read function similarly. Because I read so much that has footnotes, then, and because it is typical for writers to write in ways that demonstrate the influence of what they read, I end up placing footnotes in many of my texts, including those I put in this webspace. I reference sources at times, and I make statements that qualify my assertions and seek to clarify the contexts of them, which may make me seem somewhat equivocal but also shades me toward greater accuracy.

I do not always do academic writing in this space, though, even when I am including footnotes. I tend to follow specific lines of thought, not always well developed (hence at least part of the title of the blog), and doing so leads me around to other ideas than those I had initially thought to pursue. Mentioning them in footnote allows me to keep track of them for later development, as happened a few days back, when I returned to a point raised in footnote earlier. I am not always good about returning to older topics, I know, but I am far better about getting back to what I have footnoted than I am about getting back to what I have not. Mentioning them in footnote also allows me to have the idea out of my head instead of caroming about the inside of my skull or wherever it is that the mind actually resides. Enough other ideas still nag at me from within that I do not need other voices joined to the cacophony. And maybe someone will have something to say about the notes, themselves...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Weather at Sherwood Cottage remains largely wet; there is still water standing in the side-yard. There was a sunny patch yesterday, though, and it was used to good effect. Some of what was in the garage was gotten out of the garage and either cleaned or disposed of, as the case needed to be, and the grill was brought back into service, if briefly. I was reminded of how much I enjoy grilling, and when the weather clears back up and I get the yard mowed at long last, I will be doing more of it. It makes sense to do so in the summer, anyway, as Robb Walsh has it, and summer is either approaching or upon us, depending on how it is reckoned.

That the summer is coming or here, however, does not mean that all is well. Ms. 8 is cutting teeth, and the experience is not treating her well. Nor is it treating her mother and I kindly, something with which many parents in our acquaintance can sympathize and about which others, parents to be, should be warned (as I do not think I was--or about the thundering flatulence, which is a different discussion entirely). Such supplies as are available to work against the condition do seem to work well when they are administered. Getting them administered, though, is not such an easy thing--not that I blame Ms. 8. I do not enjoy having others' hands in my mouth, and "grape" flavoring is badly misnamed...

To improve matters, I think one of the common occurrences for me is coming again. I have noted, I think, that I often find myself ill after a term ends. I relax a bit, and the problems that I had been putting off in favor of work rush in upon me. When the most recent term ended, I had the International Congress on Medieval Studies to attend, which was enjoyable but busy. But that is done, now, and I am settling into my summer routine. When I finally decided to stay awake this morning, after waking repeatedly for reasons already noted, I found my nose running and my head aching. Something in my sinuses disagrees with me, possibly as a result of mucking about in the garage yesterday, but I am concerned that it will progress beyond a simple allergic reaction.

I cannot afford to have it do so. Ms. 8 needs care and attention, which I cannot provide well if I am ill (and the Mrs. works a full day today, so that I must be the one to tend to the girl). In addition, I have another piece of freelance work on my docket (I read the novel yesterday and mean to write it up today), and that does not work nearly so well when I am ill as when I am not. And there are other pieces of work to do which will likely not get done even if I feel well; they have no hope when I feel less than is going to be a long day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


A year ago today saw me in the Texas Hill Country, showing Ms. 8 to her family. Today does not see me there, but it does see family with Ms. 8; a couple of her grandparents are visiting. The Mrs. will be putting in a half day today, as is now her regular schedule, and I will be working on another freelance piece; the order came in today, and another, I am told, is already waiting for me. So things are more or less as they ought to be.

Because I have work and family to which to attend, I will not be saying much here today. I will comment, however, that I appreciate having the readership I have; there seem to be a lot of people looking at this webspace today, which is always a good thing for me. I can hope it will continue, and I will have something more to say tomorrow to help it do so. Perhaps it will have to do with yesterday's footnote; that seems something worth discussion.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Since it is Memorial Day, I probably ought to offer up the usual message. What I have said before remains more or less true, if perhaps adjusted for time and weather. Rain has continued to fall at Sherwood Cottage, leaving water standing in the yard, so I will not be grilling, for example.

More to topic, though, is to follow up on comments made at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies and mentioned once or twice in my discussions thereof. Those in question have to do with the nature of the conference presentation and whether or not it is to be taken as a finished, completed thing, subject to critique and review. That my inclination is to affirm it should be obvious, given both that I have been offering conference summaries for nigh on a week (with others to follow at Travels in Genre and Medievalism as soon as I get the complete set of data for which I am waiting) and that I have made use of my notes from conference talks in my work. (My dissertation and my forthcoming book chapter both deploy talks from the Congress, if in different years.) But that I am so inclined does not mean the discussion is not worth having, and it is entirely possible that I will change my mind about the matter as I work through my part of the discussion.

As I recall, and as I have in my personal conference notes--with the process by which I take them to be discussed elsewhere and at another time--the question came up in discussion of the public medievalism roundtable I attended. One of the presenters, Dave Perry, focused his talk to that end, discussing public intellectualism as an exercise in (among others) transitioning among registers. And what I recall and understand of his comments makes sense to me. The conference paper is something that is used to advance ideas, perhaps in tentative form, and to elicit comment and critique to be used in further development of them.* Papers I have heard--and given--include such phrases as "In a longer version of this paper" and "As this project develops," both of which bespeak work yet to be done. They often are reworked and expanded into articles, chapters in books, or scholarly monographs (something to which I ought to devote more effort and attention), and so they themselves are in several senses transitory.

At the same time, however, conference papers are supposed to represent intellectual effort that is sufficiently polished to be presented publicly. A conference talk is a public event, even if the public is small--but even if it is, that public is composed of interested parties and scholars in the field, so that something similar to the peer-review process through which more formal articles and longer works go is in place at a conference panel. One of the audience at the roundtable also drew the parallel to a poetry or prose reading, in which writers stand up or sit before audiences and present their work. Even if it is to be revised and refined later--and many are in need of much revision and refinement--the reading is a public presentation. It is an exposure to view, and it is too much to think that a thing seen will not receive comment. If that thing is formed badly, then it cannot expect to have its defects ignored any more than it can expect to have its virtues extolled. The same is true with conference work--or I tend to think so. But I may be wrong.

*Admittedly, all intellectual work is of this kind, meant to advance knowledge and serve as a place from which to develop more through critique and revision of it. The roundtable addressed the point to some extent, as I recall; we work to make things a little closer to truth, knowing that our work will be used by others to grow a bit closer yet. If things go as they ought, we will all of us be made obsolete.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


As I have noted, I still have a few more things to say in this webspace about my decreasingly recent trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies. Some of it will work towards untangling and unpacking comments made at the conference that I have found interesting. Today's bit, though, will concern one of the two plenary addresses given, that which I attended: Richard Utz's "The Notion of the Middle Ages: Our Middle Ages, Ourselves." I have written in another venue about the man's work, and I know him to be a luminary in the fields of study with which I associate most strongly, so the chance to hear him give a talk was most welcome.

It was also a rewarding experience. What I take from his argument is the idea that the kind of enthusiasm usually decried in formal scholarship as "amateurish" (typically through a pseudo-scientific motion towards an objectivity that even the sciences acknowledge is unattainable, as witness the observer effect) should instead be embraced. Indeed, those who display that enthusiasm, typically medievalists (as opposed to medieval scholars), should be embraced and their methods at least tested. There is, as I understood Utz to assert, value in recreating and reenacting events and likely hypotheticals, and many of the "amateurs" devote more resources to their "hobby" than scholars do to their scholarship. (How much of this is a result of externally imposed budget concerns, though, I am uncertain, and I do not recall Utz addressing the point.) After all, most who enter medieval scholarship--any scholarship, really--do so through an intense love of the subject matter, an affect frequently condemned by those scholars later as leading to blindness and/or sloppy work (and, indeed, such assertions do sometimes prove true; love for a thing should not blind the lover to the failings of that thing) but one that yet exerts a powerful influence.

The talk put me in mind, in part, of Mark Edmundson's "Against Readings," something about which I commented early in this blogroll and to which I seem to return from time to time (including in my teaching materials). There is peril in scholars disconnecting themselves from the love of topic that leads them into the work they do. There is peril in seeking to create distance between the worker and the work; alienation of labor is a thing much decried in its occurrences outside the academy, although it seems that the work the academy does moves in a similar direction. The thought occurs that it is that separation, done deliberately, that helps create or at least lends to the support of the idea of humanities scholarship as a thing not worth doing, as a dry and sucking thing that drains the life and love of the world from those who partake of it. What I take from Utz, and what I have long taken form Edmundson, is that there is a great need to embody the love of The Work that leads to doing The Work. If we as scholars of the humanities expect others to see that our work has value, we need to act as if it does, and we can only do that by embracing love for it, by being "amateurs" as well as professionals.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


It seems that I cannot stop writing about the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies in this webspace, even as I await the information I need to do more about it on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog (submissions to which and comments about extant posts on which are welcome). Today, I discuss a panel I went to for purely personal reasons: Papers by Undergraduates II. One of my now-former students (he has graduated) presented on the panel, using a paper written for my class and workshopped with me for a year afterwards to try to get it in shape. How could I not sit to hear his talk? And how, then, could I not sit for the other papers on the panel?

The first offering was Kiana Gonzalez's "Staying True to Tradition," which asserted a reason for Egyptian puppet-show writer Ibn Daniyal to adhere to traditional Greek models. In effect, as I understood from Gonzalez, he does so to remain in accord with the Turkish underpinnings of his work with the trickster figures Aragouz/Karagoz and Hacivat. As she approached the topic from an art history perspective, much was made of the craft of the puppet shows, citing visual and recorded performative features rather than texts to make the argument. I found it fascinating, actually, and I found myself asking her for her bibliography, as one of the long-standing research projects I have going may well benefit from it. (I do not go in for puppet shows themselves as a research topic, but they do crop up in the milieu described in one of the series which I do treat regularly.)

Jonathan T. Garner followed with "The Samurai of Leinster: The Heroic Diarmuid in Gen Urobuchi's Fate/Zero." His was the paper that grew from my class, and since his introductory notes announced it to the session, I feel free to discuss it here.* It argues--which I know from having worked with the paper for some time and having a copy of it--that the presentation of Diarmuid in Fate/Zero is calculated to address prevailing audience understandings and needs not only for its original Japanese audiences, but also for Western audiences who are likely to have it only or primarily in translation. Reliance on the shared features of formalized codes of conduct, artificial as they may actually be, does much to bridge the two audiences, as does particular components of the physical depiction of Diarmuid. I imagine that Garner will be doing more with the paper; I hope to see it come out in a more extended form, more developed than the constraints of conference work allow.

The panel concluded with Dylan Matthews's "Intimacy and the Monarch in Thomas Hoccleve's Address to Sir John Oldcastle." Matthews, a student of RF Yeager, argued that Hoccleve's piece must be read in terms of Oldcastle's relationships with his king as well as of Hoccleve's own involvement in the affairs discussed. (My graduate advisor, who focuses on Hoccleve in his own work, would likely be able to say more on the matter than I.) The deployment of Lancelot in the work is telling; he is either a negative example or a parallel, invited to return to his former allegiance because much valued and ultimately undone because the invitation was refused. (The thought occurs that Hoccleve might be making a tacit accusation of adultery, given Lancelot's character history.)

Again, there is more to say about the 'zoo. While most of the rest of what I did has to do with the Tales after Tolkien Society, and so will be discussed elsewhere, there was at least one other event I attended that bears discussion here. Too, there are some ideas that need unpacking, and this will be a good place to attend to them--later on.

*One of the interesting things that will require untangling noted in an earlier post is just how much a conference presentation counts as a "public" event. This is not the place to treat it directly, but I rather think that such a post is coming.

Friday, May 22, 2015


As I noted yesterday, I attended other panels than those for the Tales after Tolkien Society at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies. One of them bears in on my formal academic specialty, Malory; its title was Malory and Causality. While I did have a bit of trouble getting to the panel--I had initially set up in a room across the hall from it, having misread the program--I enjoyed it greatly, as the papers presented in it were quite good.

The first of them was Marc Guidry's "'He told him not the cause': Motivations without Explanation in Le Morte Darthur." He contested the received wisdom voiced by Vinaver that Malory eschews hypotaxis at the levels of sentence and narrative structure. Instead, Malory appears to deploy the construction in his own native dialogue, rather than presenting it in direct narration or in the materials he retains from his sources. Guidry asserted that the sentence structures mirror the larger narrative structure of the sprawling text, particularly in the overarching structure constructed through presentations of adultery in the text. It was a complex, nuanced work that will do well as a longer version, which I look forward to reading if it is ever put into print.

Scott Troyan's "Chivalric Causality or Chivalric Casualty? Knighthood, Quests, and the Failure of Rhetoric in Malory's Morte" came next. The unity of Malory's work is much discussed and contested, and the conflicting rhetorics of chivalry and Christianity in the text offer no clear resolution to that contestation. The text deploys chiasmus--the closely-placed inversion of the order of key terms and phrases, such as JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country"--to produce tension and promote the perception of causation, drawing the reader along by encouraging repeated recontextualization. Of note was the assertion that the meaning of the text may always already be in place, but uncovering that meaning is far from a given.

Benjamin Utter's "Malory's Secular Pelagianism: Worshyp, Will, and Heroic Destiny in the Morte Darthur," an excellent paper, followed, Utter argued that Malory's text partakes of both the "peculiarly English" Pelagian self-determination and Augustinian predetermination. Self-salvation and worldly salvation are pried in the text, but only those who are born of already-heroic or ennobled bloodlines seem to be able to effect or receive them. A false sense of social mobility, exemplified by Beaumains and others, is thus presented. (The implications for further analysis of the work raised by Utter's excellent reading are somewhat startling. Malory would appear to be asserting himself as orthodox, perhaps as a means to seek clemency or pardon for his misdeeds and political misadventures.)

Leigh Smith concluded the panel with "Two Unhappy Knights and Lady Fortune: What Boethius Meant to Malory." As the title suggests, the paper explicated the Boethian in Malory, which likely derived from both prevailing cultural discourse (one comment noted that "Boethius was in the air at the time") and from Chaucer's Boece (the constraints of conference talk precluded doing more to tie the latter in more fully). In Malory, "hap" refers both to bad luck and the contrivances of Providence; it is both chance and Fortune, and the two are not at all the same. They collude to bring about the tragedy of Camelot, aided by poor decision-making at the Round Table. It is an important concept, although it must be remembered that importance is not the same thing as casuation.

The Malory panel was not the last one I attended outside of Society work, to be sure. Reporting on the conference, though, is outside the other work to which I must attend today. I expect I will offer another installment of conference reporting tomorrow...

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Owing to the fact that my dissertation director is Jennifer Vaught, I spend some time at each International Congress on Medieval Studies I attend with the kind and intelligent people who treat Spenser and Sidney at the conference. This year was no different, and so on Friday of the conference, I attended a panel on Spenser's Faerie Queene, one titled The Matter of Faerieland.

After opening remarks, the first paper, Caroline Pirri's "Virtue as Virtuality in The Faerie Queene, Book III," focused on the character of Britomart from Book III, arguing that she functions as a mirror for other characters and thus as a microcosm of the poem as a whole--or that is what I took from it. I also note the comment that "Chastity is a foreclosure of bodily knowledge," a concept that seems fit to consider in future work.

The next paper was Stephanie Hunt's "Pastoral Allegory and the Politics of Nature in The Faerie Queene." Among her discussion was the idea that politics are constructed as reflecting natural order--something still in common use--which becomes problematic not only for the expected reasons--taking something as "natural" means it is unalterably "the way things are," which precludes helpful changes--but also because nature itself is ultimately unknowable. It requires mediation to be understood, but mediation is itself an imposition of artifice and thus an abrogation of nature. If politics reflect nature (and here the comments are mine rather than what I understood from Hunt's), and nature is itself inscrutable, then politics are also impenetrably complex. Whether that is true or not, I leave to others (perhaps a future me) to untangle.

The final paper in the panel was Liza Blake's "Golding, Spenser, and the Physics of The Faerie Queene." I admit that my background is not such that I was able to follow the paper as well as it deserved, although I was able to take from it the idea that Spenser's poem, insofar as it suggests or promotes understandings of the relationships among things in nature and the meanings uniting those things, presents a physics of at least its own world. Poetry, as I understood Blake to say, is a means to approach understandings of the essential forms and their shaping, in which it connects to physics as commonly understood: the study of the essential forces that shape reality.

I did attend other panels during the conference, not only those for the Tales after Tolkien Society (which I am still in the process of writing up, as there are other concerns I wish to address in that work, and freelance writing has resumed). My comments on them will continue into tomorrow, at least, although I do have to consider the difference between today's and yesterday's. Today's follow a more common pattern for conference summaries, I think, giving takeaway notes for papers presented; yesterday's gloss far more, and they do so in part as a response to one of the contested comments made in one of the panels. Said comment remarks on conference work as ephemeral and unfinished; that discussion needs more untangling, more "unpacking" in academic parlance. It is why I am trying to be clear that what I report today is my understanding; I may have gotten things wrong or, more generously, filtered material through my biases more fully than I have understood. It is a complicated thing; as I note, it needs more thinking-through.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Weather around Sherwood Cottage continues to be wet. Water is standing in the backyard; yesterday evening, it flowed through it. Water is also standing between the house and the driveway, as well as in the side-yard. I begin to think that the house itself is the low-point on the property, the work of time and fracking-waste-disposal-induced earthquakes conspiring to have the cottage slowly sink into the earth from which it ultimately derives. It is perhaps a slow sinking, but it is hardly a comfort to think that I might awaken one morning in a basement when I went to sleep in a house without one, only to drown as the water seeps in and rises around my feet.

As noted earlier, I need to continue to report on events at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies. While I was there, I presided over a general session and a Tales after Tolkien Society session, as well as attending a number of other panels and presenting a paper for the Society. While Society work will be addressed on the Society blog, the other materials can be addressed in this webspace. To wit:

My first task at the Congress was to preside over a regular session, Looking Back at the Middle Ages; it happened Thursday at 10 in the morning, making it one of the first at the Congress. Given the kind of work I typically do, which traces the manifestations of the medieval in later periods, my presiding over the event makes sense, and I was glad to get to do so. All three papers were good, with the first two serving (among others) to remind that much medievalist discourse is undertaken to serve nationalistic purposes and that many of the complaints that are currently made are far from new. The third served as a reminder of something that became a bit of a theme at the conference: the perceived divide between the amateur and the scholarly is something that needs to be diminished.

That theme was addressed, if somewhat obliquely, by a panel I attended shortly afterwards, a roundtable treating public medievalism. The several presenters laid out what it is that they do, why they do what they do, and the benefits and perils attendant upon their doing so. Medievalism, including public medievalism, is a polyvalent term, having multiple meanings with which to contend, and the reach of public medievalism (as opposed to scholarly) has a number of perils even as it does much to attract attention to the medieval and the study of it (as I comment repeatedly on the Society blog). Writing for a broader public and in shorter form necessarily means that the finer details of argument be elided; one presenter offered an example of an immense citation history that he had to skip because of the constraints imposed on his public discourse. Differing impacts of the public and private work also came up; number of citations made to a work argues in favor of that work and the worker who does it when the time comes for tenure and promotion, and those who do public medievalism are more likely to be cited than those who do not.

I do have my notes from the other non-Society events I attended compiled and ready to translate to this medium, but other things are beginning to demand my attention. I am sure that I will have more to say in the next few days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I am back at Sherwood Cottage from my adventures at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. It was, as ever, a good experience, although it is also, as ever, good to be home.* Waking up in my own bed is something I appreciate greatly. Waking up with my family about me is also something I appreciate greatly. Being away from doing both, even for so good a reason as being at the 'zoo, is not the best thing. This is not to say that I do not appreciate having gone and having done as much as I did at the conference (and I was busy, indeed), and it is good to get away from the quotidian from time to time, but it is also good to get back to daily life--at least for me.**

I will likely spend a portion of today compiling my last sets of notes from the conference. Sunday was a day of rest, more or less, and yesterday was a driving day, so neither saw me attend to that particular task. Once I get that done, I can write up my reports for this webspace and the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. I had thought that I would be updating the latter at Kalamazoo, but that did not happen. I will be updating it from Kalamazoo, however, and those updates will necessarily be different than those this webspace gets. Please continue to look at both, and feel free to post comments or send along materials for posting to the latter.

Today will probably also become a reading day. I have a stack of things over which to pore, things neglected in favor of teaching and freelancing and conference prep, and I may be able to catch up a bit on some of them. It will take some doing, but without the work of class prep and grading, I should have a bit more time for things. It remains to be seen if it will work out...

*Comments about earlier conferences can be found at the links below:

**I am aware that such a statement bespeaks a certain degree of privilege. Not everybody has a good home situation. Not everyone has a home situation.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I am still at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I have been busy. It has been a good trip so far, and I have been able to get a fair bit from the sessions I have attended. My notes are still in draft, and I am not going to duplicate comments between this webspace and the Tales after Tolkien Society blog, Travels in Genre and Medievalism, so reading both will be needed (and contributions to the latter are still very much welcome). But I will be offering some comments about my experiences here after I make my return to Sherwood Cottage and have a chance to digest those experiences a bit more. I am still busy, after all...

One thing that was brought to my attention, though, and which was quite the welcome surprise is this comment from the publisher of the Tales after Tolkien volumes, in which I have a chapter. It is markedly flattering to be quoted (even if one of the comments is not entirely correctly attributed) and cited as something of a celebrity. I do not know that I am entirely ready for the attention, although I welcome it. Perhaps it will help in the ongoing pursuit of a permanent position...

More later.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


I am currently at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In a relatively short time, I will be presiding over a panel titled "Looking Back at the Middle Ages," which does some of the same kind of work that I have tended to do in my own research. It focuses, however, on earlier medievalisms than I do, which should prove illuminating. I anticipate having many opportunities to take good notes, as well as to deliver them.

It is good to be at the conference again. I have already run into a few people whom I only see at this event--as well as a couple of others whom I have not seen in some time but am glad to have met again. I look forward to many more such meetings, although less to the partings that must inevitably follow. Still, "not all tears are an evil," as one writer notes...and it will be good to be back at Sherwood Cottage.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I am ready to go

A place Meine names
With Schenker behind him
Calls to me

Miller speaks of it
Earlier than they
Spelling it out for the audience

There are a few things to do
Before I can go
This is one of them

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I am, at least for a brief bit, back at Sherwood Cottage. Tomorrow, I head up to the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I will be presenting a paper and presiding over two sessions, as well as attending at least one dinner and a number of other events. Yesterday, I got back from a whirlwind trip to the Texas Hill Country, where my wife and daughter and I attended what amounted to being a wake for my late grandmother. (I have not made much of a secret of my offline identity in this webspace, I think.) Today, I will be taking care of a few final things to be able to go forth and do what I need to do in Kalamazoo: printing, laundry, and the like.

As such, it will be another week before I settle into the summer routine I expect to have. The Mrs. will be working nearly full time if not actually full time or more, and I will have the day-to-day care of Ms. 8 while I try to keep up with freelancing (once it starts back up) or other research writing. It should be a productive summer for the household in the main, although we do plan on a trip or two during the months between now and the resumption of classes in August. Some weddings are scheduled, and more family could stand to see us now and again.

Another thing: The weather in the region where Sherwood Cottage stands has been severe in the past few days, and many have suffered and are suffering as a result. Donations to relief efforts would not be out of line. They will not find their way to Sherwood Cottage, however; the city where it stands and where we live has once again avoided the worst of the matter. There was rain here, certainly, and some wind, but not so much of either as in other places. (And it was good to see the Red River look a river again, as well as the Cimarron.) All is well here, and I pray it will continue to be so.

One more note: While I am away, I will have some internet access, although not as freely as I have while I am at home. Given the demands of the conference, though, I am more likely to focus my attention on Travels in Genre and Medievalism than on this webspace. So it may be a bit before regular updates resume here...

Friday, May 8, 2015


Today promises to be a busy day. I have not got freelance work to attend to, nor have I conference work; both of those are done for now, with nothing else to do until another order is offered or I am on-site. Instead, today will be taken up by exams and grading; I have two exams to preside over, and so I will have two exams to grade. How many show up for them is not yet clear to me; some are not in position to suffer for skipping or benefit from taking, and some of those are doubtlessly aware of their positioning. I would not blame them for not sitting for the test; indeed, I would appreciate it, as it lessens the grading burden I face this afternoon and evening.

The thought occurs that my appreciation bespeaks a view that there is no point in doing things that "don't matter," and sitting for an exam that will have no effect on the course grade does not matter...if the grade in the course is the point of the course. (That it is for many people, I am well aware. The number of students who have come to me asking for one or two more points on things is proof enough of it.) It is easy to think that it is, of course; the course grade is the end result that is measured and recorded, and it factors into decisions about money and hiring. But the grade is also in many cases a measure of how well a student can follow directions, how well that student can conform to expectation--and that may well not be learning. (The grade can also sometimes reflect how much a professor likes a student. It should not. For me, it does not; I am reported to hate my students, after all.) Ideally, an exam should oblige students to generate new knowledge as they sit for it; it should not simply be a reiteration of material previously covered. If the point of a class is to learn new things, then sitting for a properly-designed exam is never something that does not matter--irrespective of the grade to be earned.

Admittedly, such an event does require the exam to be designed properly, and while I think that mine are thusly constructed, I am not sure. It also requires the environment and context to be such that conduce to learning as the end-goal, and I readily admit that I do not foster such and environment and context as much as I should. For one, I have not the institutional heft to be able to do more than "the job" for which I am hired, and such contextualization runs counter to things such that the heft is needed to avoid being swept away. For another, when I have been in a position to do so and have attempted to do so, I have not met with enough success to justify the continued effort; such as I have found would, I think, have come about without my intervention, or without my devoting class time to it. (Office hours are altogether different.)

I am not certain where this line of thought leads me. I am not certain that this line of thought leads me. I am certain, however, that I need to get another cup of coffee...

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Yesterday, I was able to close out one class completely, administering its exam and assessing all of the submitted responses before entering final grades for the class for the term. Two more remain, to which I shall attend on Friday before heading out to see family and thence to Kalamazoo for reasons about which I have commented already. Yesterday's anxieties about things not going well after not starting on time proved unfounded, which I appreciate. I hope that today, since I did get going more or less when I had thought I ought, will not suffer in proportion. A certain degree of smart-assedness seems to be embedded into the world, and it would be a smart-ass thing to do to postpone consequences until their target is relaxed and inattentive.

Yesterday also saw me finish reading the novel I will be writing up for my freelance work. It was not so good as I could hope to read, although it is not as bad as the vampire porn piece I read earlier. (This is not because I am opposed to porn, per se. I am opposed to bad writing--and the writing was really bad. Adding an occasional aspiration to an English word does not make it exotic and foreign; it makes it annoying.) I expect to spend much of the day today writing up the novel, in and around taking care of Ms. 8 while her mother is at work. I should be able to get the task done, or nearly done, if I can be diligent about the use of my time while the girl is asleep or calmly at play. That is, unfortunately, not as often the case as it ought to be.

If it is not, it is in some senses because I am tired. My "other" job is not in a grocery store, as is the case for one writer, Matt Debenham, whose 1 May 2015 article a friend of mine brought to my attention yesterday. (I could wish it were in so nice of one as Debenham describes; I have never worked in one that treats its employees so well.) It is, instead, the freelancing of which I often write. My "main" job is not adjuncting, as such; I count as full-time and have an annual contract, but I remain contingent. As such, I find myself in much the same situation as Debenham describes; I am, in effect, working two jobs to make ends meet. Some of the need to do so is internal rather than external; I have written, I think, about my feeling compelled to work. Some is the result of my own prodigality; when I lived in The City and earned as if in The City, I spent as if in The City rather than remaining frugal, and I am paying for it now. But some is the need to ensure that Ms. 8 has what she needs, and the Mrs. has the occasional nice thing--because she damned well deserves it--and that they can have a roof overhead and food in their bellies while they enjoy them. What I make for the "main" job is not quite enough, particularly after twelve years of schooling after the first twelve and trying to pay for them after the fact.

So, yes, I join Debenham in working two jobs (at least; I might count as doing more, depending on how "a job" is figured). And so I am not as full of vim and vigor as I might otherwise be; I expend much of both keeping going.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


This morning has gotten off to a later start than is usual. I slept in until nearly half past six, an hour later than my norm, and when I staggered into the kitchen after my shower, I found I had not turned on the coffee pot as I usually do--it normally happens during my first walk around the house, when I check to see if things have gone Horribly Wrong while I was asleep. The pot has finally brewed, and I have a cup, but I am somewhat superstitious, and so I have to wonder if the...errors are going to carry forward through the day.

I rather hope they do not. I am slated to give an exam today, and given the constraints imposed by my travel schedule, I will have to grade it today, as well. While I expect that some of my students will opt out of the test--some are in such a position that taking or not taking the exam will have no effect on their overall grade, an artifact of the strict ABCDF system, and I cannot say I blame them for opting out who are in such a position--I know that not all will, and so I will have work to do before attending to other work. Interference with either work will not be particularly welcome.

Among that other work is no longer writing my paper for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, to which I will be heading at this time next week. (And I do mean "at this time," as the drive to the conference from Sherwood Cottage takes some fourteen hours.) The paper was completed yesterday, which pleases me. I will doubtlessly find other things I want to put in it, other things I would like to say; I always do. At this point, though, the paper is deliverable, and that is what I need it to be for the purpose. It is not as if I have not got enough other activities to handle at the conference, what with presiding over sessions and all...

What is among the other work, as ought to be expected, is more freelancing. I am more than halfway through a novel I will be writing up for pay (not bad for only starting the reading last night); I anticipate completing the read today and beginning the write-up either later today or tomorrow, with scheduled completion tomorrow. The extra money will take a little while to get to me, given the constraints on how my payouts work, but it will not be the less welcome for it. I imagine that I will be getting more such work done before terribly long; with the end of the term, I will have more time to work on such work, even if I will also be doing more to take care of Ms. 8, as was the case last year. She moves more, now, and so needs more attention--but that is far from a bad thing.

I can hope the day will also be thus removed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


As I noted last year at around this time, ­¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! and happy Revenge of the Fifth!

Now that the holiday cheer is dispensed with, on to other things: The weather around Sherwood Cottage inches toward summer, with lows in the sixties (Fahrenheit, of course; we'd not want to convert to a sensible system of measurement, now, would we?) and highs formally in the eighties--although I would not be surprised to find that it actually reached ninety. Humidity is up, which likely accounts for the feeling; forecasts suggest that rain will be moving in and staying through the weekend, which will make for a fun time getting things loaded for travel. Once the semester ends, we are paying call on family, and I will be running thence to Kalamazoo for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, at which I am to be quite busy. Getting to do so in the rain makes things all the better.

I do not complain about the rain, though, not really. Having grown up in the Texas Hill Country makes me appreciate water falling form the sky. There is not often enough of it doing so in a year, and only rarely does too much come at once. Twice, to my recollection, or twice of serious note, anyway, but not more than that. The rivers often run low, as do the aquifers upon which many depend, and that is not less true near Sherwood Cottage than in the oak- and cedar-covered hills among which I grew up. Too much red dirt shows beside the waters that do not flow as they ought for me to complain that they are replenished from above--even if such rejuvenation has uncomfortably sexual overtones. But that I am happy to have it happen does not mean that I am pleased entirely with its timing; it will make some things a bit less convenient for me and mine.

That inconvenience occasions complaint is doubtlessly a sign of my being steeped in privilege, of course. I recognize this, and I recognize that my life has been largely good; if annoyance at having to drive in the rain befalls me, it only does so because there is rain (which is good) and because I have a car in which to drive (which I also count as good; if nothing else, I can run deliveries for extra money, although preferably not in a town whose population includes so many of my students--I have some dignity). I am able to drive said car, which not all are, and to expect that my travels will be conducted relatively safely; I do not have to worry so much that I will be pulled over--with legal sanction and official protection for the one doing it--for being in the kind of car I drive or for driving it through the places I do. I do not have to worry that my doing anything other than prostrating myself will end up in my being shot--or that I will be shot even if I do so, leaving the Mrs. and Ms. 8 to deal with the trauma and loss. All I have to do is get through the rain and let it soak into the ground--and that is not so bad.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Yes, yes, yes. May the Fourth be with you again. And, yes, this blogroll is once again marking an anniversary, having begun (although not in earnest) in 2010 on this day. I probably ought to attend to some of my other online materials, though; it has been some time since I have done so, and links in the linked posts may not be as live as they ought to be. Perhaps after I get done the other things I need to get done, I can attend to it, but that will not happen for some time yet. It may not ever happen; new tasks arise as quickly as I discharge old ones, which is good in that it keeps me in work and thus in bringing in money, but it is less good in that it makes clearing my docket a difficult thing to do. Such is the cost of life in academia.

One of the benefits of that life, though, is that things have discrete beginnings and endings, and one of those endings arrives presently. It is exam week at the school where I am employed, and while I am not actually giving exams today--mine are Wednesday and Friday--the sense of finality, of crossing a finish line, is very much in evidence at Sherwood Cottage. To continue with the racing metaphor, there is one final sprint to undertake, since the line is in sight and its tape waits for me to break it. I hate to run, of course, although there was a time when I did so well and swiftly, but for such an occasion as comes twice a year (or more, in some places), it is worth doing. That the sprint is only a sprint helps with that.

I am more or less ready for the exams. They are already written and need only be administered and graded. The grading will have to be in some haste, admittedly, as I have travel plans which commence the day after exams are done, but it should not be a problem for me. The students' submissions will likely be brief, and they will all be treating the same subject matter. I do have a freelance piece to which to attend, as well as a conference paper to complete within the week, so there will be a bit of a juggling act to negotiate, but that ought not to be too much of a problem. The piece I will read for the freelancing ought to go easily and quickly; I think I will handle the conference work first. Exam proctoring, after all, allows for other things to happen--as I have attested before, and more than once, in this webspace.

There are benefits, after all, to maintaining a single stream of writing, even if it has not always flowed as freely as it ought to have done. Being able to look back with ease on some, at least, of what has gone before helps to frame thought and promote evolving understanding. If the channel is sometimes diverted, that does not mean the flow must stop forever...

Sunday, May 3, 2015


A chapter comes to its last page
There are words yet to read
Notes yet to make in margins
Thoughts yet to think
Comments yet to make
Appendices, perhaps
An index yet to scan, perhaps
But the back cover is fast approaching
And the volume is to be put on the shelf
When another is to be taken down
Is unclear

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Ms. 8 got her own bedroom last night. Rather, my Mrs. and I moved out of the room where we had been sleeping since settling in at Sherwood Cottage and where we had put Ms. 8's crib, switching the beds in that bedroom--"the front"--and what had been the guest bedroom. It seemed a better choice to make than swapping all of the furniture around. There is more to do in that regard, of course; there is a bookcase that needs to come out of Ms. 8's room and into that my Mrs. and I now share. But what is left to do is relatively minor, easily accomplished once we or I set out to do it--although that will likely be a while.

Work continues, of course. I have a set of assignments to grade in haste, and I am fortunate that their nature is such as admits of my doing so. I am also in the midst of a freelance piece; it is well begun, but it is not done, and it needs to be. I will likely be able to complete it over the weekend. My conference paper also needs attention. The reading I have yet to do for it will go quickly, as the texts I am poring over are short and I have read one of them before, but it still takes some time and the writing takes a bit more. It will get done, though, as will all of the other tasks I have to handle before the term ends and I gallivant up and down the middle of the country.

Weather at Sherwood Cottage continues to be good. The nights are cool, the days warm, and the rain that we enjoyed has moved on so that the ground is drying out and I will likely be able to mow the yard today. It needs it; the falling water has helped the green carpets in the front and back of Sherwood Cottage become shaggy, a seeming throwback to the worst excesses of the 1970s. The back yard also needs some picking-up, as there are branches strewn about and what I can only call the leavings of plumbing work done to be found; a hatchet-job is needed, too, as roots and such are sticking up such that they will meet the mower blade uncomfortably. I have no desire to have wood chips or slivers of PVC flung at me at speed again. The experience was unpleasant enough the first time. And the second. And the others.

It is, for the most part, a calm, placid life I lead, following a pattern that I have allowed to grow up over the short time that I have been where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. I make no complaint of it; I know that the pattern of my life could be far worse than it is. It could be better, yes, and I continue to struggle to that end, but it could be worse. I have no desire to learn how much worse...

Friday, May 1, 2015


This day
Is May Day
And I call out
Because we are in

Is it not obvious?

Workers united
Are now divided
Blaming as corrupt
Systems that
Though corrupt
Are at least corrupt in ways
That benefit them

I have been in
Right to work
Places and
Places and
I did far better in the latter
Than in the former
And I am not the only one

We hear complaints
That things were better
Back in the day
They are wrong
In many regards
Because things were not better
They have sucked the same amount
But in different directions
But even so
Those who complain
Complain also of things that
Back in the day
And when things were as they were
Labor practice was different
And workers stood better together

Not so much

An isolated target
Is easier to hit