Friday, July 31, 2015


A friend asked me if I would take a survey being conducted by her mother-in-law as part of her doctoral research. Because I believe in collegiality, even across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, I agreed. Because the researcher, via the survey, asked me to do so, and because I believe in collegiality, even across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, I am sharing the survey link: If you have the time and inclination, please take it; I took less than five minutes to go through it, and it will increase the available data set for the researcher if you do so. That will help the researcher do better work, and better work for her is better work for the rest of us. The Work helps us all.

I have been up for a while, now. Ms. 8 decided that she would be awake at four this morning, and she decided that she wanted company. Somehow, I find it hard to go back to sleep while the baby is crying, so I sat with her for a while. Then her mother woke up, and Ms. 8 clamored for and went to her; the Mrs. took her in hand, and while Ms. 8 is contentedly playing now, I was awake with her long enough that I actually woke up. Hence my writing now, earlier than has ever been common for me. It is an interesting experience, although one I do not know that I want to repeat despite being a morning person by nature and training. Even I need a certain amount of sleep every now and again.

It is helpful in some ways. Today is payday, something I have celebrated more than once (although I'll give no jaunty lines today). Today is therefore also my day to pay my bills, and I have already done so, scheduling a number of payments and cutting a check to ensure that I have such things as a car, insurance for it, and a house in which to live. (Sherwood Cottage does not come for free.) I have also paid down some of my debts, which is always good to do, and there is even a bit of money left over--which is good, because I anticipate that I have other bills coming. (I will need to order more checks, for one thing.) It will be nice, though, to have paid most of the bills and still have a bit of money to my name. It does not happen often anymore, despite my working more jobs than one at any given moment and trying to balance my responsibility to support my family financially with my responsibility to support my family emotionally.

There is something to be said for getting things taken care of and done early. If nothing else, it frees up later time for other work, and I seem always to have such other work, both The Work and other tasks to do. At least I have not got the complaint of not having enough with which to keep busy; I have no reason to claim to be bored, which makes a promise made in 2002 far easier to keep than would otherwise be the case.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I am still at work on the freelance order that came in yesterday. In fact, I am still working on the reading. Normally, I would be quicker about getting it done, but delays in other work ate into the time I would have spent on freelancing, and Ms. 8 is doing a passable imitation of a glazed donut, so I have had to devote my attentions otherwise than reading through what is (so far) an excellent novel and plotting the response to it that I will sell for money I can use (but probably less than it is actually worth). Thoughts in that line occur to me even now; there is one avenue of inquiry that suggests itself immediately, given the novel's setting and characters. I will save them for the work, however; I do not want to make the mistake I realized making about Go Set a Watchman, posting to this webspace the germ of a paper I really ought to have fleshed out more and sent elsewhere.

That last comment prompts questions about posting my "literary" musings here. As a still-aspiring academic, one who is still searching for a stable position at a college or university in the hopes of having access to materials needed to further human knowledge and the time in which to do it,* I am in a position that obliges me to develop new knowledge and understanding, detail the processes through which I arrive at them, and send the reports thereof out into the world. "Publish or perish" is the adage commonly used, although for me and for the many, many others who languish off of the tenure track, "publish or be stillborn" is more accurate a description, as we are hardly born into "real" academic careers (and the longer we remain among the precariate, the less likely we are to be delivered successfully, if the metaphor is to be followed so far). It is a commonplace that work submitted for publication must not have appeared in prior publication; there are exceptions, of course, and conference papers are often reworked into journal articles and scholarly monographs, but aside from such constructions, what is submitted for review and distribution is supposed to be new and original work. Posting commentaries that can themselves be reworked into short papers (and I am under no illusions that what I post here serves as the beginning of books to be written) works against that. What I post here, I likely cannot develop further and expect to receive credit for it.

That suggests that I should use this webspace only to make comments that I have no desire to follow in other places. It suggests that this webspace be used only for the leavings of real work--and that has unfortunate implications that insult those who read what I write here. For if this is only to carry the scraps of other work I do, well, to whom and to what are table-scraps usually given? But I do not regard my readers as dogs under my table or as rummagers fit only to rifle through garbage in the search for sustenance...

*A common complaint about the professoriate is that professors teach little. They are hired primarily to work to develop more knowledge about humanity and the world humanity inhabits. The teaching is, at least for the professoriate, usually secondary. Making new knowledge and positioning it such that others can use it take time and effort. Teaching takes up much of the same time and effort; rarely can a person do both as well as they need to be done at the same time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I am happy to note that another freelance order has finally come in. I doubt I will be able to complete it before this week's payout date, so it will be a little while before I see the money from it, but I *will* see the money from it, and that is the important thing. That, and making the note that it is odd that I would be so happy that I have more work that I can do. I suppose it means I am in the right line of work in terms of freelancing; if I am nearly giddy at the prospect of having a new reading assignment, I am surely doing a job fit for me to do. But it still strikes me as strange that I would be so happy for more work. (It would seem to give the lie to some of the assertions made about persons of my general political persuasion. How one can be lazy while celebrating having work to do...)

To move to another topic: I have noted reading webcomics before, and I have scarcely discontinued the practice. Most mornings, as I do a few things in advance of taking my shower, I look for the most recent "strips" of the several webcomics I follow and have followed, many for several years if not for more than a decade. As I have read them over the past few days, I noted that many of them note that irregular updates are forthcoming, for GenCon approaches, and attendance at it disrupts normal schedules. And as I noted so, I found myself taken with a bit of nostalgia, which disturbs me because I know that reminiscing rarely ends well--yet I cannot avoid it, somehow. Perhaps by writing of it, I can expel it from myself, enacting a reflexive catharsis in the hopes of moving forward well.

In 2003 and 2004, I attended the convention in the company of a few friends and several others, known to those friends but not to me. I did so largely with the thought of collecting information for my honors research (such as I understood research to be at the time--I have learned much since then). The 2003 trip was, in the event, my first real exposure to the culture of fandom (my social circumstances were...not ideal), and I found myself overwhelmed by both the press of people and the intensity of their devotion to the many properties represented (and not represented) at the event. I participated as best as I could, and I enjoyed my time in a number of the sessions on offer, but I know now that I suffered from reticence based in fear. The 2004 trip was better. I did more, and I was more confident in doing it, but I still withheld myself from engagement because I was in large part afraid. Not of the people, so much, although there is a certain amount of concern that attends on immersion in any large gathering. Instead, I was afraid of making a fool of myself--which is an odd fear to have amid people dressed in motley and as science fiction and fantasy races in various stages of dress. (I saw ridges and spots in interesting places.)

The fear is still with me, of course. I worry greatly about appearing the fool even now and in most circumstances. It remains an oddity, of course; I am not alone in not really needing to worry about it. Why worry about a certainty?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


When I opened up the program I use to write this blog, I found the following notice waiting for me:
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(I apologize for the odd spacing. Formatting is a bit wonky in this program.)

I am a respecter of laws, generally; while I acknowledge that many laws are unjust, I tend to adhere to traffic regulations and local ordinances as part of my contribution to a social system from which I benefit. (I am fully aware that I benefit in no small part because I occupy a position of privilege within that system, as I identify and am identified as an Anglo-Saxon-ancestried cisgendered heterosexual male Protestant of the middle class. Not all are positioned to similarly benefit, I know.) I am a state employee, after all, and I paid for my extensive formal education through a series of grants and loans, many of which originated in the federal government. It behooves me to be observant of law in principle--even if I may oppose some specific laws in practice.

Moreover, I am a big believer in fair warning. I do, for example, think bars ought to be able to allow smoking in them if they decide to--but they should have to post at the entrance, conspicuously, that the establishment is a smoking one. (Restaurants, to which children are taken without their consent, are a different matter entirely.) I am Texan enough to accept the validity of the "Trespassers will be shot" sign and the enforcement thereof. Annoying as it may be, I approve of the message that "This call may be monitored." And I tell my students far in advance what I want from them and how they will be assessed.

But I am not under the jurisdiction of the European Union at this point in my life, and I found myself somewhat annoyed at being obliged to comply with laws of lands that are not mine. I imagine that many will feel similarly. On reflection, though, I remembered that this platform is not mine; it is lent to be, but it is not owned by me. The owner has the right to establish rules for the use of what is owned, and, because I am adherent to laws and recognize the justice of "my house, my rules," I find that I have no problem with the policy--the more so because the work of it is done for me. That ought to be a help.

Monday, July 27, 2015


The summer bridge program continues today. I will be playing a bit of catch-up with my students, as Friday's discussion was somewhat hijacked. The plan had been to discuss an assigned reading, a summary of and response to which the students were to have completed before coming to class that day. What happened instead was a lengthy discussion of academic integrity and academic honesty (with the basic dictum,* "If you looked it up, cite it," offered as an initial guideline), which I was happy to entertain. It is a legitimate academic topic in any class, really, and one with which I am concerned. (Or I have been, at least.) It seems that every regular term has one or more of the students in my classes make the mistake of submitting work that transgresses in such a way; if I can help prevent such errors from happening, I am happy to do so. Even so, the reading that was to be discussed on Friday needs to be discussed; I hope to do so today, as well as covering the readings that actually belong to today (which I ought to glance over once again). As I noted, I am playing catch-up.

Other work seems not to be progressing as quickly. I still have not received another freelance order, which begins to worry me. There have been gaps in order-placing before, and I have long understood that the freelance work is not enough to sustain me on its own, but I have grown fond of that particular source of revenue. Its absence annoys, and I hope for a resumption of it soon. Too, I ought to have been at work on other projects, perhaps only syllabus-construction for the forthcoming term, perhaps work on The Work which I have too-long neglected, or perhaps on some more "creative" or commercial project that I can use to supplement my other income and elevate my profile a bit more. Or I ought to have been applying for more jobs, since I seem to keep getting letters--few against the number I send out, maybe handfuls against the scores and hundreds I submit--telling me I am not wanted, that my work will not suffice. It is a common message, indeed, and since I am the only constant among the applications, I do have to wonder what it is that I am doing or failing to do that marks me out as not worth the time.

I will be making a go of it again, today. As I note, I have work to do; not only must I be in the classroom, but I must grade what has come in from my students. I can hope that Ms. 8 will sleep such as will allow me to do so; working while keeping an eye on her increasingly expert and ambitious climbing is far from optimal for several reasons. Failing that, I know the Mrs., herself having been at the front of the classroom for no small amount of time, will cover things while I take care of that particular task. And there are the many other things that need my attention, bespoken above. If I am to have any hope of things working out, it will only be because of the work I do--and I have not done enough, obviously.

*I am aware that not all that needs looking up needs citation. Looking up "callipygian" to know that it means something like "having shapely and attractive buttocks" (per the OED and others) only needs citation if the definition itself is reported; looking it up to use it in a sentence, as in "I find that person to be callipygian," does not.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I had ambitious plans

I would earn my degrees before I turned thirty
And I did that
You can trust me
I'm a doctor

I would make money writing
And I do that
If perhaps not so much
As I would like

I would have a family
And I do, at that
Spouse and child
And, for some reason, cats

I would have a steady job
And I thought I did
But that thought was not a good one
Earlier or now

I would have my peers' respect
And I think I have that
When I see them
Less often than might be

I would get much done
But I am in doubt of that
As in many other things
I have seen my thinking be wrong before

I do not know that I still have ambitious plans

Saturday, July 25, 2015


High whine oscillating as I sit upon a throne
My legs beginning to go numb
I already could not leave
Being not yet done with what needed doing
And it becomes harder to stand

Continuing whine
Its source glimpsed fleetingly
Moving into shadow and being lost
Were my hearing better
Perhaps I could track it thence alone
But it is not

Pounding takes its toll

My hands are quick enough to quash the whining
Pressing upon its source until it bursts
But sometimes is not often enough

Friday, July 24, 2015


I have not got much to say about the shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday. So far as I know, the folks about whom I care who are still in and around Lafayette are well, so my most pressing concern in the matter is addressed. (I did my graduate work in Lafayette, so I do know some folks there.) I doubt I am in a position to be able to help the families of those dead and injured, due both to distance and to my own current situation. I am not in a position in which I am affected by what has happened, so other than to express my sympathies for the families (which I acknowledge are not terribly helpful for them) and relief that those for whom I care are well, I ought not to say much about the shooting itself. (It is a policy I have held for a while.) I might have more to say about some who discuss the event, however. That, though, will be for another time--if I can pay attention to what they say and how they say it. I may well not; I have other concerns.

Work in and for the classroom continues. As noted, I wrapped up the first of three weeks of instruction for the summer bridge program yesterday. So far, the students seem to be largely engaged and attentive, which is good to see. Many appear to be taking seriously the comments I leave them on the assignments they submit, which is also good; if I am going to take the time to put several hundred words of advice and correction on a paper that is itself only a few hundred words long (and, yes, I think one or two students got more words from me than they gave to me), then I would like to think that those words are being read. I am being paid for the time and effort, of course, but I would be paid even if I left few or no comments (although I note that students only notice when few comments are left; they complain of little feedback even as they neglect abundant feedback). That I do more than I am obliged to by the terms of my contract is something I should like to see more broadly appreciated--and the summer bridge students, at least some of them, are giving it me.

I have not had another freelance order come in, which causes me some concern; I can use the money. But I can also use the free time that not having such orders affords. That time has allowed me to be swift in my grading (something for which several students have thanked me), and it has allowed me to be more attentive to Ms. 8 while the Mrs. has been at work. She has the day off today, though, and since I still have no freelance order with which to busy myself, I will take the opportunity to do more journal reading (I am still far behind), as well, perhaps, as a bit of writing on one of the many other projects I (always) have going. Perhaps I will be able to sell one or more of them.

I did say I need the money.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Today will complete the first week of my teaching for the summer bridge program; classes only run four days a week, leaving three days for the students to work and get their outside experiences in. (It also leaves three days for faculty to attend to their own affairs). It is a good system, I think, for the purpose it serves: helping students transition from high school life to college. And while I am aware that many will think that colleges and universities "go too easy" on students now--I have had such thoughts myself on occasion--having the easy entry that the bridge program facilitates is a good thing. Perhaps if we had such a primer for more students, we would be able to push a bit harder in the regular classroom.

I know that one objection which may well present itself is that of money. Asking who will pay is entirely valid. I teach at a state school in a state that is cutting budgets, which suggests to me that individual taxpayers are not inclined to contribute more, despite it likely being a good investment (since people who are in school and feel like they are being welcomed into and by the school have motivation to behave responsibly and are more likely to come out of schooling better equipped to discharge the duties of responsible and informed citizenship, both of which support the public good). College is already costly (as I well know), so asking students and parents (and, ultimately, taxpayers whose dollars underwrite student loan and grant programs) to pay more can understandably be thought to cause balking. And while some might suggest that those who do the work of teaching should be paid less so that only those who love the work will do it (a line of reasoning that seems only to be applied to those who teach--never to those who fight, say, or who legislate), good teaching requires good thinking, and good thinking does not usually occur amid a frantic scramble to survive; those running the program need to be paid for their labor--and the question of whence the money comes remains.

The summer bridge program for which I teach is underwritten by a number of companies that hire graduates of the academic programs to which the bridge ostensibly leads. (I say "ostensibly" because students switch majors. It happens. There is nothing wrong with it.) Some of those companies have unsavory reputations even in the United States, let alone elsewhere in the world where they have been known to intimidate less-powerful governments into allowing depredations to occur, where they can exploit less rigorous regulation of labor and environmental practices to make more money more quickly--consequences be damned. So there is an ethical dilemma even in something so seemingly benign as helping students get ready for college (aside from the ones already attendant on the American university systems, which need more treatment than I am able to provide at present): To what extent, if at all, does the good done in the bridge offset the evil done by those who underwrite it? Ultimately, is the program worth pursuing, not at the individual level (where I think it is--but I benefit from it, so of course I do), but at the global? Does it allow more harm than good? Does it cause more harm than good (since I acknowledge the differences of degree, at least, among omission, permission, and commission)? And if it is, on the whole, bad, how much blame do I bear for my complicity in it?

It is a comforting set of questions for the morning, is it not?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I recall waking from a dream several times this morning. I recall that it was the same dream each time. I recall thinking that I wanted to report the content of said dream, that it would make an excellent blog post today. I do not recall the dream itself, though, not anymore, and it annoys me substantially. I doubt I will recall it, at this point; I have been too active already, reading and doing a small bit of writing already. (I have said I am a morning person, notably here. I may have had some trouble earlier, but that trouble seems to have passed or to be passing; I am back on something like a regular schedule, and I benefit from it greatly.) The tasks of the day push aside the musings of the night, the conscious mind overwhelming the machinations of the subconscious even as it is buoyed and supported by them. The hole in the ice is closed, but the scar of its former presence remains, marring the view.

The work of teaching the summer bridge program continues. I will have to pick up the first homework assignment today; it was due at the end of the calendar day yesterday. The paperwork situation is a bit complicated, unfortunately, due to the nature of the program; there is only one place where students can submit homework, and a more useful system (such as I use in teaching my regular classes--which I need to work more on setting up) would have multiple such sites, one for each major assignment. I will navigate it, however. There is no other real option, and the work of the grading will not be so hard as it might otherwise be (although I maintain that grading is the worst part of teaching, even as it seems to occupy most of the actual time spent on the job).

I am somewhat oddly fortunate, then, that freelance work is slow at the moment. I usually enjoy the freelancing, and I always enjoy the money that comes in from it, but it takes up a fair chunk of time. In the past few months, attending to it has effectively prevented me fro making much progress on a number of other projects; my work on The Work has ground to a halt or very near to one. I cast no blame for this, of course; I have not done what I can do to manage my time more effectively than I do. I have allowed myself more indolence than I deserve or that getting done all of what I want to get done will bear. But that I acknowledge my own failing as the cause of the trouble does not mean I am not annoyed at it--and I should not be expected to be pleased. We allow many to complain of the just and appropriate consequences of their actions, after all.

Still, and always, there is more to be done. It is time for me to attend to at least some of it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


The summer bridge program started yesterday. For it, I teach an hour a day, four days a week, through the first week of August. The schedule is congenial and the work not terribly difficult; there is a programmatic syllabus, and the teaching materials are all available online. All I need do is pull them down--and because I am in some ways still old-fashioned, I tend to print them out for my ease of reference. I will be going back in this morning to take care of more paperwork before my class begins; the start of an instructional term, even one so brief as the bridge program, is always rough, and it needs more and more attention.

When I go, though, I will have a bit of weather with which to contend. Rain has moved into the area around Sherwood Cottage again, with forecasts calling for storms throughout the day and into tomorrow. The rain looks to hold down the day's temperatures, which I account a good thing; born in Louisiana and raised in Texas though I was, I still hold warm weather more pleasant than hot weather, particularly on days that oblige me to appear somehow professional. Doing so obliges more layers of clothing for historical reasons of which I am only dimly or partly aware, and more layers do not interact optimally with high temperatures, after all.

At the moment, I have no freelance work on my docket. I completed a job yesterday and have been advised that the work was accepted; the money is waiting for me. I appreciate it greatly, and I try not to be in a position to turn away work. Doing so distresses me. But it is good to have a bit of a break from the freelancing. I have other work to which I likely need to attend, and having some more open time in which to do it is helpful. Cramming it in alongside a classroom gig and freelance work and child care and domestic chores is not optimal. I can do it, of course, and I have done it, but it goes far more slowly than I would prefer.

Many things go far more slowly than I would prefer. Perhaps I am spoiled by my years living in The City, and perhaps I am spoiled by being a Millennial, but I do like to have a number of things and quickly. Some of the delays, however, are my own fault. As I noted last year, I do not do as well with journal-writing as I ought to do (I am only on my twenty-eighth volume, and I am a month behind in it). Rarely do I spend my time optimally for that writing task; I play stupid games more than should be the case (some decompression is necessary and helpful, but I am certain I exceed that amount greatly). Even this webspace has not done as well as it should this year; I am far behind last year's performance, particularly in February. And if my journal-writing is a problem, my journal-reading is faring worse. I suppose, though, it is a common enough occurrence; how many are actually in the places they thought they would be and wanted to be?

There is more work to do.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Because I seem to do such things...

Teaching begins again today.
Some students can no longer play
Their games for hours going away
Because teaching starts again today.

Students now will sit in rows.
In the back is best to doze,
Heads down on desks with eyes tight closed
Or heads thrown back and mouths wide Os.

And in the front is best to ply
For sympathy, to say "I try,
But work is hard to do, and by
The way, without an A, I'll cry."

Some, however, take the task
Presented them and do not ask
For pity, do not have to bask
In unearned glory's empty cask.

They want to learn, to understand.
Too few of them in any land
Appear and are taken in hand.
If I have them, it will be grand

And those with whom I start today
Are likely those not sold on play
But who instead seek out a way
To make things better. So I pray.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I struggled with the pull chain
Yanking on it again
And again
And again
And again

The engine sputtered
Turned over
Started to run

It is idling roughly
Driving unevenly
Jerking oddly

I do not know how far I can go

Saturday, July 18, 2015


With apologies to Tolkien

The Work goes ever on and on
Out from the desk where it began.
Now far ahead the pay has gone,
And I must chase it as I can,
Pursuing it with labor much,
Until it finally flits away
In bills and debts and other such
That I will never full repay.

The Work goes ever on and on
Out from the desk where it began.
Now far ahead the pay has gone,
And other chase more than I can.
They in investments had begun
While I have simply scrimped and saved.
In seven figures their worths run,
While mine but echoes, a hollow cave.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Matters are improved since yesterday. My hands and wrists are not so stiff and sore, and the swelling has subsided. I appreciate this, for even though a new freelance order has yet to come in, I have other work to which I must attend--including some I would have done yesterday had things been otherwise--and I need my hands to do so.

For one, I have final preparations to make for the summer bridge program I noted being hired to help teach. This involves a meeting with the grader who will be helping with all three sections of the English class being taught. (I am teaching one; colleagues known to me are teaching the other two.) It also involves me running by the program office to retrieve materials--and I probably ought to get a start on reviewing them, as well, since it helps to know what is being taught before it is being taught. And I likely ought to see about integrating some discussion of those materials into my own revised teaching-and-other-information-about-me website.

That website itself needs some more updating. Freelance work has taken up a fair bit of my time, as I think I have made known, and while I have put some effort towards the new website, there is more that I need to do--and not just with respect to my teaching. I probably ought to see about putting up comments about and examples of my writing on the site, and more than just the abstracts and annotations that already appear there. (I need to see about adding to the annotations, as well.) There are a few "creative" pieces I have floating about that could be usefully linked on the site, and I need to see about pushing yet more into print. And I could see about monetizing the website, as well, although I am not entirely certain how I would do so and what the implications of my doing so would be. (I could use the money, though.)

Generally, I need to be doing more writing. I know that I am able many days to write a piece of approximately 500 words (exclusive of footnotes and citations) for this webspace, and I have considered re-situating the posts I make here to the other website as a means to build its contents further. Some of my earlier thoughts on monetization still apply, however; not all of what I post here is necessarily appropriate for the purposes to which I would put the other website, although I still think they bear noting. (I am also reminded that some of my recent posts have not carried all of the labels they ought to carry. That is a different problem, however.) In any event, a "daily" 500-word piece is not enough; if I am going to continue to style myself a scholar and/or writer, I need to make more text than that. Freelancing helps with this, obviously, although what I write in that capacity does not carry my name as it goes out into the world. (There is a metaphor in there somewhere, I am certain.) It helps my bank balance, but it does not help my prestige, and that prestige needs enhancement if I am to land more secure employment than I have. (If you have job openings, I am happy to apply; please let me know.) Accordingly, I have more writing to do--and so I am glad my hands are better.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I was able to complete my write-up of Go Set a Watchman yesterday. This is good, because I think I have done something to my wrists and fingers; they were swollen, stiff, and sore. I am taking the day off. Have fun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


**The following text contains spoilers.**

I read Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman yesterday. It is a short novel, quickly read, and while much of what I would initially say of it will be said in the context of my freelance piece on it (already begun but still in need of more work, to which I will devote myself today as other duties allow), there are some things in the novel that will not find their way into my write-up. I am not typically a literary Americanist, and even the training I do have in United States literature treats areas other than that in which Lee's work is usually considered to fall. As such, it is not likely I will be publishing any formal papers on Lee (the freelance work is not formal academia). I therefore feel no qualms about moving toward a discussion of the text here, namely one of the points it makes with Atticus Finch.

In the eminently familiar To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is presented as an idealized, if alternate, form of masculinity. He is resolute in his convictions, including those that pull him away from the violence typically associated with the "normal" masculinity to which he is an alternative. (It is worth noting that he has a peculiar capacity for that violence, as the interlude with the rabid dog indicates.) Further, he is markedly gentle, in accord with his general non-violent attitude, and attendant to the needs of the communities in which he exists and with which he associates. Decades of readers have been able to look to him as a useful model to follow.

One of the prevailing complaints about Go Set a Watchman is how it fails in carrying forward that idealization. The text reveals Atticus to share some of the more insidious racist beliefs of his time--and, unfortunately, ours--as well as to have been a member of the KKK. The revelation is shocking within the novel and outside of it; in both cases, the upright pillar that Atticus had been is shaken and cracked not by age but by the fact that its very foundations, previously thought solid, are instead in uncertain soil that erodes away, perhaps slowly, but nonetheless fatally. If Go Set a Watchman is to be taken as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird (and a point against that assertion appears in the write-up I am conducting; it is not hard to find for those who are paying attention and remember what they had read before), then the ideal Atticus represents in the former novel is undone in the second. His performed masculinity is ultimately a deception, ultimately a failure.

If it is, however, the "traditional" masculinity to which it is opposed in the earlier novel is also a failure. After all, Atticus wins out over the Ewells and the pressures of his community despite his lack of success with Robinson. He is not persuaded away from his convictions; he is not obliged to change who he is against them all, and the retention of integrity is surely a victory for him. If he is a failure, how much more so must be those whom he defeated in that area in which he bested them? His masculinity triumphs over older, more "traditional" forms, marking it as a "superior" form of the ideation.* Yet his own masculinity is proven to be false, a failure; that which he bested, the more mainstream conception of masculinity, is therefore all the more abject--again, if Go Set a Watchman is, in fact, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.

The problem that Atticus encodes can be explicated further, certainly, and that explication used to further discuss the critiques of performative gender that pervade the novels; Scout/Jean Louise struggles against assumptions of femininity in both works, after all. It can also be deployed in something like the Robertsonian criticism familiar to medievalists; much is made of church attendance and membership in both novels, and Atticus can easily be read as serving as a (now-abortive) Christ figure. How much can be attributed to Lee's deliberation is, of course, uncertain, but it is not the case that an author has to intend a thing for that thing to inhere in the work, where exploration of it can work to the benefit of all.

*Yes, I am aware of the problems in such a formulation. Ad baculum and all that. However, "traditional" masculinity tends to prize the idea of might making right; by its own airs, it must accept the value of what bests it. As that tradition still obtains, I think I am justified in deploying it in my argument here, particularly given the informality thereof.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Yesterday was a productive enough day. I was able to complete a freelance order, which always pleases me. I was also aided in doing so by my wonderful wife, who only had a half-day of work at the pharmacy and took Ms. 8 with her as she ran errands in the afternoon. Doing so allowed me a few hours of undistracted quiet in which to write the several thousand words I needed for the job. Now I await payment for the piece, which I expect is forthcoming--for there is already another order waiting for me to do, and I doubt it would be were my work not pleasing to the client.

The upcoming order bears some discussion, I think. The novel I get to read next is the new Harper Lee piece, Go Set a Watchman. Critical attention has already been focused on the text, appropriately enough, and no small amount of controversy attended upon news of its forthcoming release. There were, as I recall, questions about the author's willingness to have put into print a novel that had been set aside and kept away from the public for decades (although the argument could be made that keeping and not destroying the text meant publication at some point was intended), particularly since questions about the author's current capacities were also afoot. I am not in a position to answer any of them, and I do not seek to do so. The facts are that the book is in print even now, and I have been tasked with reading it and doing the usual write-up of it. I will be paid to do so, and I need the money. The Mrs. and Ms. 8 need what the money will buy.

I am mindful that I am being paid a compliment by my client in being selected to complete the Lee write-up. The novel already attracts much attention, and the write-up of it can reasonably be expected to sell well; I imagine that many people who are "too busy to read" the text in full will still want to know what goes on in it, so as to seem informed and intelligent, and the write-ups I do would seem to facilitate that use. I know also that there are other writers doing the kind of work that I have been doing; I have helped clean up their work, so I know they are about. That I have been chosen to do what will likely be one of the better selling pieces (I know what I am supporting through my efforts, and I know that it pays me to do so) is thus a commendation, albeit one that has me work a bit more. (It does not hurt that I was assigned to write up To Kill a Mockingbird not long after news of Go Set a Watchman broke.)

So, in and around keeping an eye on Ms. 8 and doing a bit of housecleaning so that the Mrs. comes home to a nice place after her full day at the pharmacy today, I will be reading the new novel. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will begin the write-up, although I do not think I will be so speedy as I was yesterday. It will, however, be done, and it will be done damned well.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Yesterday's work on the smoker went well. The brisket came out of the contraption with a lovely dark bark and broad smoke ring, cooked thoroughly and so tender that it needed no knife to separate its slices into wonderfully tasty bites. I am pleased with the effort and enheartened by it, as some of my previous attempts to smoke brisket did not go as well as could be hoped. (Pork, oddly, has never presented a problem for me. I guess there is something to be said for an Iowan heritage.) It will be a while before I run the smoker as a smoker again. I have some grilling to do before I can fire up that particular setup next, but I am looking forward to doing it. Donations of meat will be welcome.

While I ran the smoker, I read for my freelance work. Since that reading is done, today will be taken up with the ordered write-up of the book I read. I already have said write-up stubbed out, which has taken up some four hundred of the five thousand words ordered. I also have ideas about how I am going to proceed with the less concrete portions of the write-up. Some parts of the task--the character list and chapter summaries, in particular--are simple enough to compile. Others--the book review, plot analysis, and setting discussion--are less straightforward, perhaps, but not difficult. Far more abstract are discussions of symbol, motif, and theme. I am asked to provide them, and I am paid for it, so I do--but doing so means I must read with such things in mind. I am trained for it, although the "average" reader is not, and so I do, on occasion, run into problems of disagreement. One of the few customer complaints relayed by my freelance client is that I neglected a particular symbolic significance, discussing another instead. That I favored another approach does not mean I did not note the one the customer wanted; it simply means I thought another more important. But the subjectivity involved in identifying and explicating symbolism necessarily admits of disagreement, and I know not all will be pleased with each word I write.

Next week, I will begin work on the summer bridge program I noted earlier. Soon after it is completed, my fall duties will begin. I am surprised that the weeks have passed by so quickly as they have; I feel that I always am. They have been productive; I have gotten much freelance work done, and I have set myself up for a few other things admirably and well. Still, I wish I had been more productive, more assiduous about getting things done. I try to give the lie to the conceit that those who teach are lazy, enjoying months of "time off," and while I may not have been in the classroom these past weeks, I have been working, indeed. But I think I have not been working hard enough or well enough or both; there is still so much I need to get done, and all too little time in which to do it.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Today, I will be running the smoker again. My father-in-law gave the Mrs. and me the better part of a brisket, which had been in our freezer for a while before we took it out to thaw. Currently, it sits in the refrigerator with a rub of black pepper (less than I used when I smoked pork last), comino molido, and a little bit of garlic. Soon, I shall start my smoker setup, building a charcoal fire to get to the temperature I need and adding hickory chunks to get the flavor that I want. But running the smoker will not be the only thing I do today.

I have a freelance order that needs some attention, as is usually the case. Tending to the smoker requires frequent observation and occasional action; I will have the time to do the reading that the freelance piece obliges. That the book I will read for it is not overly long will help, but I cannot shake the feeling that I ought to have been about the work yesterday instead of doing the other reading I did and relaxing throughout the day as happened to befall. Not that academic reading is easy; I plowed through an issue of Speculum and got started on one of the South Central Review. I enjoy that kind of reading, but it is not as easily accomplished as that of the popular fiction for my freelance work.

The weather will facilitate my working with the smoker. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid- to upper 90s F (35 to 37 C, for those who operate on a more sensible system) with skies clear or nearly so. As such, I will be able to use the heat kindly offered by the sun to help keep the temperature in my smoke-box where it needs to be; summer sunlight on blackened steel makes for quite a bit of warmth, after all. I will still need the fire for the smoke and for some of the temperature, of course, but it will help to have some underlying stability in my cooking.

In the meantime, the Mrs. will take Ms. 8 to church, where our daughter will spend some time playing with other children. When they get home, I expect the girl will sleep a while; what the Mrs. will do is less certain to me. It will be to our benefit, I have no doubt, and I take strength from that certainty. My wife is a wonderful woman, mother to a most excellent daughter; how can I do but strive to be and remain worthy of them, even if it is in something so simple as cooking a cut of meat so that Sherwood Cottage not be heated more than the summer sunlight will do?

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I am a builder
Mortaring together bricks
Putting up walls already marked
Scrawled over
The bricks themselves
Marring what had been pristine

But how often is the pure noticed
How often that which is untouched seen
How much remains pure and pristine
Because it is not noticed
As soon as seen
Marred and marked and made other than it was
And not always for the better
Or even perhaps often

The structures I build are ephemeral
Existing only so far as they are seen
Taking other forms when not
If there are other forms for them to take
Moving more quickly to decay than others
But not more certainly
For what is built of brick
Or stone
Or concrete and steel
That will not pass away

It is as the old poet wrote
Again and again
Þæs ofereode
Þisses swa mæg

Friday, July 10, 2015


One of the benefits of maintaining a series of writings is that doing so allows for some ease of finding topics. There are always things left untreated in writing that has been done, loose ends that can be tied off later or toothing stones that can be used to build more walls and rooms. It is not proof against not having things about which to write, of course, but it is helpful. Today, it confronts me with two easy possibilities, for one of the ways in which having a body of writing to look over helps can be to look at what was written on similar days in the past. I have twice posted to this webspace on the tenth of July: 2010 and 2014. Either could well be a springboard for further work.

In 2010, I still lived in The City at Bedfordside Garden. My writing was less polished then than it is now, or so it seems to me; I wrote in choppy paragraphs with unreasonably complex sentence structures. I was still at work on dissertation materials at that time, though, and it is possible that that work infected my other writing. Dissertations are consuming, as those who have written them can attest, and since they represent the ability to enter into prevailing academic discourse standards, they tend to be more...complicated in their syntax and lexicon than many other works. Too, they also tend to treat ideas difficult for their writers, a tendency that puts me in mind of Ian Barnard's piece in CCC 61.3, "The Ruse of Clarity." I write in fuller, more developed paragraphs now than I did then, and I like to think that I am better at adjusting my usage to suit my audiences now. That is not to say I dumb things down in this webspace, but I do not write it as I write when I write only to those whose training is like mine.

Last year, I was at Sherwood Cottage, considering the lawn and the social (and legal, as it happens) demands of attending to it. Then, as now, I did not look forward to working with the grass, although I am better equipped to do so now than I was then. I am in better practice with it, and I have more tools with which to perform the tasks, thanks to the kind gifts of family. Then, as now, I struggled with negotiating "traditional" masculinity and my own inclinations, and I wrestled with the idea of presenting a good model of adulthood to Ms. 8. I struggle less now than then, which may be because I either have better ideas now or have given up a large part of the fight to do so. (The former would be better. I worry that the latter is more likely.) My writing was more like what it is now in 2014 than in 2010, both in form and content--understandably so. What that indicates, however, is still not clear to me. More consideration will be needed. Fortunately, I can return to this post in the future, as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


The weather around Sherwood Cottage remains gray. Even now, I hear thunder rumbling across the wind-swept plains, and I do not think it is a basketball team training. How much more rain will fall from it, I do not know. How much more the area needs, I do not know. Nor yet do I know how much more it can stand. I have not left Sherwood Cottage in some days, so I have not seen whether the rivers are yet swollen or the ground still flooded--save in this small place where I live and work, where no river flows and the ground is wet but not standing in water. Again.

I am not likely to leave today, either. I was not able to get as much done on my freelance work as I would prefer; even while Ms. 8 slept, I found myself distracted and less able to work that is my wont. As such, I have to complete the project today, squeezing out several thousand more words in whatever spans of sleep Ms. 8 allows me, or waiting until the Mrs. makes it home from her own work and tends to our daughter so that I can do mine. Combined with the rain and the fact that the Mrs. will take our one car to work today, it makes my venturing out far less than likely.

Normally, remaining at home and at work does not bother me. I have worked to make my home space comfortable for me, and the adjustments to it that continue to occur because of Ms. 8 need overseeing that I am not averse to offering. (Watching things change to suit her as well as her mother and me is interesting. The interaction of what the adults in her life provide her and how she manipulates those things provided entertains and amazes--and it occurs to me that I need to spend some more time considering the implications of what we give her. For if, as I have held--see here and here, among others--home is an externalization of the internal, I have to consider the shaping of the internal by the external. Ms. 8 crafts herself in part, as we all do, but only in part, as is true for all of us. How much and in what ways her grandparents and the Mrs. and I make her, and what it means that we do, needs attention.) Working is one of the few things I feel that I can do and be of some account--something else I have discussed at length in this webspace.

From time to time, though, I have the feeling that it is not enough. I tend towards being a hermit, but it is only a tendency; I am not thoroughgoing enough in it to be truly comfortable in isolation. (It is not the only thing for which it is true; I am "not enough" of a great many things, and it causes problems.) Today seems to be one of those days already; a nagging feeling of wanting something more or something else besets me. Unfortunately, I cannot indulge it. I cannot afford to, either in myself or in terms of the selfishness implied. And so I will set aside the feeling once again and get back to work, now that I have cleared out what needs clearing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


We had rain at Sherwood Cottage yesterday, a heavy sprinkle that fell throughout the day. It was exactly the kind of rain we needed to have and that we will need more of in the days to come. What I have seen of forecasts for today's weather calls for relatively cool and humid conditions, which might result in more rain, but probably will not. That the yard got mowed recently is fortunate, therefore, as it will be easier to do next time than it would be had it not been mowed. There is something of the untamed prairie still in the soil here, and the rain seems to call to it; the grass grows swiftly and thick, aided by rain interspersed with the strong sunlight of summer. If only other plants that we want to have grow would do so, things would be more to my liking.

Work continues, of course. I read a novel yesterday for my freelance work, Elin Hildebrand's The Rumor, finding it enjoyable enough, although marked by occasional awkwardness of phrasing. The write-up will begin today--soon after I wrap up writing in this webspace, in fact. How much gets done today will depend on the usual factors: my endurance and the cooperation of Ms. 8. But I have a bit of play in the deadline for the freelance job, so I am not worried about getting done on time. My desire to get paid for the job is a more pressing concern, in fact. The money has been a useful addition to the household finances, and, as I believe I have noted before, the work is not difficult. It simply eats much time, which has its own problems.

Work will continue in earnest beginning in a couple of weeks. I have been hired to teach a section of English for the Oklahoma State University College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology's Summer Bridge Program. It is a three-week course meant to help prepare incoming students to face the rigors of college curricula (laughable as that phrase may sound to some who laud "the good old days," far from good as they were), and I am not ashamed to say that it will be a lucrative experience for me. It will oblige me to spend four hours each week in the classroom, as well as preparation time for those four hours and grading time as a result of them. The Mrs. will maintain as much of her work schedule as she can as I do so, and Ms. 8 will still need the care she needs. (She is healthy and thriving. She is also approaching nineteen months in the waking world, which comes with increasing activity and thus an increasing need for attention. I am happy to offer it and to be part of her life as I am; not many fathers are so fortunate as I am.) Somehow, I will still be working on freelance work and other projects--and those will have to include setting up for the fall term, which I reach soon after helping students cross the Bridge. But I should be used to having much to do by now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Yesterday was something of a busy day, involving getting Sherwood Cottage back together from the week with company and the weekend away. It also saw me head up to the library at the school where I work, where I took care of some paperwork that needed doing. I also took the chance to look myself up online, using a computer not already habituated to me from being mine. As I did, I also stumbled across a few other things to read, one of which was Judith Sherven's 5 July 2015 LinkedIN article, "What Does Your Desk/Office Say about You?" In the piece, Sherven gestures towards the idea that the décor of a workspace is revelatory of the persona of the person who occupies the workspace. In the gesture, she relates an anecdote about her dissertation before posing a series of questions to her readers. The short piece ends with calling "attention to the power of [personal decorative] choices," marking it as more of a note that such details are telling than as a guideline to effective professional self-presentation--which might work better for the more junior professionals on LinkedIN than what is presented.

Even though the article is perhaps not as helpful to its primary audience as could be hoped, it does make good points--which I know are good because I have addressed them before. In the December 2014 issue of CCC, I have a short piece titled "Where Writes Me." In that piece, I interrogate the décor I had put into the office I had at the time (I have suffered some reversals since), questioning whether it depicts me as a young but accomplished professional (given the awards and degrees festooning the walls, as well as portions of my nascent scholarly apparatus) or as insecure of myself and my station (given that such things could function more as security blanket). Since the students I taught in my earlier position were as they were, I had to question whether the second was more true than the first. Even in my current position, taken after "Where Writes Me" was accepted for publication and its text finalized, with such décor on the walls near my desk in the office pool to which I am currently assigned, with a student body much more traditional and at an institution much more "normal" than that where I worked in The City, I have to wonder how much of the décor is an attempt to assert my validity as a scholar rather than a celebration of what I have done.

I suppose, then, that the thing Sherven misses most in her brief online treatment (and I would love to read the dissertation, actually) is that, in addition to offering room for interpretation of the worker who works in the workspace, the décor of a workspace offers room for multiple interpretations, possibly conflicting with one another. It is only one of a number of such things that can do so, only one of a number of areas in which some people focus to great effect as others neglect them and likely have their prospects curtailed therefore...

Monday, July 6, 2015


The Mrs. and I made it back to Sherwood Cottage yesterday. The wedding we attended was beautiful and the reception excellent. The weather in the seat of the English teachers' national council was almost idyllic, particularly compared to the weather we had left and to which we returned. But now the Mrs. is at work, and Ms. 8, after an evening and a morning of being ecstatic at our return, is asleep, and I must attend to other things. A more normal update will come out tomorrow...I hope.

Friday, July 3, 2015


I would think I had kicked an ant mound
But ants are never so sluggish
Save in the cold
And it is far from cold

Thursday, July 2, 2015


My wonderful wife and I will be traveling over the weekend to attend the wedding of a couple of our friends from The City. Ms. 8 will be staying at Sherwood Cottage--and not alone; we have family coming up to watch the house, the girl, and the cats (one of whom is likely noisily shitting as I write this). We leave tomorrow, attend the wedding Saturday, and return Sunday. It promises to be a fun time for all involved.

On our return, I will be walking into a load of work; two freelance orders popped up for me this morning. One was a bonus, a pleasant surprise, indeed. The other was a more normal order, one for which I have purchased the book but which I have not begun; I have told the client about my travel plans. I also had to turn down a proofreading job, which I regret, but there would be no way that I could get it done by the client's deadline. I do have company over, after all, and, as I note above, I am about to be on the road. Neither of these conduces to copyediting--or, really, to reading-and-write-up work.

It is not often that I am in a position to turn away work. I am usually in the opposite situation, looking for work to take on. It is for that reason that I signed up to work with a summer program, after all, and why I have been attending to freelance work as much as I have (to the exclusion of other writing projects that should be getting more of my effort than they have been). The household needs money; my wife's families and mine offer help, and I do not turn it away, but I need to do more. I need to not need the help, or to need as little of it as can be done. This past week, in fact, has been a worry, since it has only been today that I have come up with freelance orders, with chances to bring in just a little bit more money so that I can not only pay the month's bills (which I did, mind), but maybe put aside a little bit against the threat of work not coming in and me not finding more of it to do. (I have been unemployed. It was not pleasant, and I do not imagine that the resources available for support here are the equal of what I had in The City.)

I am not certain I am comfortable being in the position. It feels somehow wrong to refuse a job, even if it is one I will not be able to do. I worry that having said "No" will mean that further offers will not be forthcoming, and that is not something I can afford to have happen. Not even if I win some kind of lottery and suddenly have millions of unearned dollars to my name can I afford to have that happen; I have seen what else falls with such windfalls, and I have no hardhat to protect me against such things...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


My most resplendent and wonderful wife has her birthday today. I know the number, and I have no trouble reporting it: 29 + taxes and fees. What I am doing with her is our business, thank you kindly, but you may rest assured that I will be taking care of her. (I was going to write "as she deserves," but I am not able to do that; she deserves more than I am able to give.) That she will get to see her parents today and that we are hosting her nephews help with that, though.

The experience of hosting those nephews is proving to be interesting, certainly. Aside from Ms. 8, I have not got a lot of experience with children outside of a classroom (I have taught elementary school kids, and I was certified to deal with grades 8 through 12), although the one nephew is at an age I remember well (instead of in flashes of embarrassment and pain, as the younger's age) and seems to be interested in such things as grilling and being useful about the house; there is some connection to be found. The younger, though, eludes me. Sherwood Cottage is simply not set up for an elementary-school boy (which makes sense, since the birthday woman and I have not got one), and I did not do terribly well at that point in my life...

I did note in my morning reading Jeff Sellingo's LinkedIn piece, "Wanted in College Graduates: Tolerance for Ambiguity." In it, after relating an anecdote for an early job interview, the author makes the assertion of the title, noting that those who are mentally flexible are most likely to find career success in the face of increasing automation. He references the research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in support of his claim, invoking her findings about purportedly "fixed" psychological qualities such as intelligence to bolster his claims about flexibility before returning to his opening narrative and remarking that striving for flexibility in any field will prove helpful. It is a charming piece, one that does well enough for the venue in which it appears, although there are points where it could be improved.

In effect, Sellingo argues for a position not unlike that staked out in Asimov's "Sucker Bait," a story I have referenced before in this webspace. Like the Good Doctor, if less elegantly, Sellingo praises the "connective tissue" among ideas, the ability to take knowledge from one field of human endeavor and apply it to another. It is a praiseworthy thing, to be sure, one lauded in my own education (I am "a literary generalist" in many of my cover letters, which makes sense since my graduate program was explicitly generalist), as well as in broader academic work (the push towards interdisciplinarity) and contexts broader yet (the jack-of-all-trades figure)--although I own that there are problematic depictions of the diversely-skilled (Tolkien's Melkor had part of the knowledge of all his kindred and turned evil, and Milton's Satan is of much the same type, as I have argued). Unfortunately, though, even if such flexibility is noted on job advertisements as desirable, it does not seem to be reflected in the hiring systems I have encountered, and it is not reflected in the attitudes of students who view schooling as a means to acquire a narrow set of technical skills they think will equip them for careers--and no others.