Thursday, December 31, 2015


Today is again the day of looking back, one prompted by the wholly arbitrary calendar in force across much of the world--a calendar inaccurate in its underpinnings, since Dionysius Exiguus was in error, and one not consonant with observable phenomena at this point. I have addressed reflection several times before in this webspace--here, here, here, and here--and so I do not feel a need to do as I did last year and give summaries of my earlier posts. Revisiting some of the ideas broached in them, especially the latter two, might be good, but now is not the time for it; doing so would require more time and materials than I have ready to hand, the more so since work continues.

2015 has been a busy year for me. I have done much work, both in my regular job and as a freelancer, and doing so has been of material benefit to my family. My web presence has received some modification, and I think it is better for the changes on display here. A book chapter came out, and another is under review, while several papers meant for print and presentation are in various stages of composition. (None of them are as far along as I would like.) I have also written no small number of job applications, and I continue to hold out some hope that at least one of them will resolve in my favor. All of this is in addition to the work I do to keep the household running while the Mrs. does her work, as well as to the happy job of taking care of Ms. 8.

From what I can see so far, 2016 looks similarly poised to be busy. I have a freelance job in progress at the moment; I may be able to finish it today, but it may well extend into tomorrow. Another awaits attention; it is due two weeks into the year. I am sure that others are coming, and I still have to machine up syllabi--the more so since course requirements for three of the four classes I have have shifted. Too, there are still job applications to write, and there will be until I manage to secure something resembling steady employment; my current position remains temporary, and matters approach that strongly suggest an end to it is coming. (Freelancing helps, but I cannot depend upon it. Not yet, anyway.)

The temptation to reflect is often a temptation to dwell on error. Even now, I am distracted by thoughts of what I did poorly and what I did decently but could have done well. Sadistic and masochistic as I evidently am, those distractions are alluring; I have said that I am far from immune to the attractions of nostalgia, after all. But even on this day of the backward look, there are better things to do and more than to sigh with longing after another twelve months gone. It is time that I got to doing some of them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


The Mrs., Ms. 8, and I are back at Sherwood Cottage from a longish trip through the Texas Hill Country and points northeast. It was good to see family, and it was better to see how Ms. 8 reacted to events with the benefit of an additional year on her. Her smiles and squeals of delight, as well as her bubbling laughter that, to my delight, occasionally suddenly swerves towards supervillain cackling, did much to make all gathered around happy; her laughter excited our own. And I admit that matters soon distracted me from what I normally do, more than what this webspace makes obvious.

Now that I am back, there is much to do; work continues. A freelance piece awaits my attention, as does a wholly different bit of freelancing that seems to be short-term work but appears as if it will be amply remunerative during its term. I need to construct the syllabi for the two versions of a single course I am teaching in the upcoming term (about which more can be found here and here), and there are any number of other projects waiting for my attention. The time away from Sherwood Cottage, where I can do the work, was not helpful in that regard, even if it was helpful in several others.

On the trip, I almost got caught up on sleep. I woke later than I normally like most every day, contributing to not getting work done. I have said before that I work better earlier than later, so losing the earlier is not at all helpful for me. (And, yes, I rose later than I would have liked today, although not so much as was the case on the trip, and I attended to a few other things before sitting down to start writing this blog entry.) But I have almost made it back to my regular self, in large part because I rested as I did. So some good came of that particular aspect of travel to where I grew up and where my wife's families live. I'll not complain overmuch.

For now, I will be back at work, reading the assigned text and writing items for another job, maybe penning some more words into my personal journal (which I hope to complete with the year), and, most importantly, tending to Ms. 8 while her mother is at work. The Mrs. also struggles to ensure that Sherwood Cottage and its residents have what they need, and so I do what I can to support her while I engage in a similar struggle--and benefit from time with my daughter, which I know not many fathers get as much as they might otherwise like. I am mindful of this, and I work to ensure that Ms. 8 gets from me what she needs from me and that her mother gets the same. Fortunately, some of what we brought back to Sherwood Cottage from our time away will help with that, for which I am grateful.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


My grandmother arrived in central Texas yesterday evening; Ms. 8 and I joined my parents in picking her up at the airport. Plans for various activities are being discussed. I know little about them; I am little involved in their development, given my predilections. And I am too little involved at this point with those things to which my predilections incline me, as should be obvious. But there is little to do for it. I will return to them soon enough.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Another brief note:

I have been sleeping in what was once my bedroom. It is a strange experience, one that simultaneously tries to evoke nostalgia and points out the impossibility not returning to how things once might have been but probably were not. As I type on my tablet, which I do not do nearly so well as I work on an actual keyboard, I find myself once again musing.

My brother and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday. The movie is worth watching, between Episodes VI and V in quality. Surprises near the end, subtle homage to the original trilogy, and selected invocations of the now-lapsed EU make for nerd-pleasing amid a solid story. Ms. 8 will hopefully be well-behaved enough for the next one to see it with her father.

Monday, December 21, 2015


I find myself in the Texas Hill Country today, visiting family and ensuring that Ms. 8 gets to see her people. Things go well so far for the most part; Ms. 8 seems to be losing her contest with the allergens prevalent in the Hill Country at this time of year, most notably the dread mountain cedar. We are treating her as we can, addressing symptoms since treating the source of the problem is not something that can be done safely at this point, if our physician and pharmacist are to be believed. (I do tend to trust them. They have usually been right.)

While my daughter makes herself the center of her grandparents' lives and her uncle's, I look on happily. It is a welcome rest, even as everything is discombobulated for the time...

Sunday, December 20, 2015


I would seem to have done better today than yesterday at rising when I ought to. I was still abed later than I would prefer, but half past five is better than hours later. It is an improvement on which I hope to capitalize; perhaps I will be able to get back to my accustomed timing before too long. I hope so, as I tend to feel I get more done in a day if my day starts early than if my day does not. Perhaps it is a feeling grounded in nothing, but it is still my feeling, and I harm none by following it, so there should be no problem in my doing it--except that there is one in actually doing it, as I have been complaining over the past week.

I got my hair cut and my beard trimmed yesterday. It was time for both to happen, to be sure, and even though things are somewhat cooler, I am glad to be freed of some of the weight. I am somewhat less glad at having seen so much white and silver on the black barber's sheet (is there a word for the thing that practitioners of the tonsorial arts drape over those upon whom they work?). Grey hairs have appeared on me intermittently since I was twelve (seriously), and they have been spreading across my scalp and cheeks and chin. I had not realized, though, how many of them there are upon me; the stark contrast yesterday was certainly informative.

Work continues. My freelance client is looking to expand the offerings his company makes and paid me for a consultation to that end. I am glad of both the money offered for my doing so and the regard for my skills and knowledge the request for a consultation implies. There are not many places in the "professional" world willing to express in more than a cursory fashion appreciation for the kinds of work to which my studies have trained me, at least not that I have encountered as yet. The validation, even if it remains essentially exploitative, is welcome--particularly since it comes accompanied by that most precious of things to business: money. I am looking forward to being advised of what the initial effort for expansion will be; I think I will be the first to do one of the new write-ups.

It is good that work does continue. Yesterday, the Mrs. and I went to have some of the shuttlepod's fluids examined, as people who own vehicles often do. As we did, we were told that the vehicle had grown misaligned and that its tires needed attention. Since we do a fair bit of driving, this was a concern for us, and we had the needed work done. It was not inexpensive for someone on the salary of contingent faculty. There is money coming in, but it not do so for some days yet. I hope that nothing goes wrong , particularly between now and when the money hits and I am able to do more work to bring in more of it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


A certain flower lives indoors and out, blooming at odd times upon command.
It may have petals of diverse shapes and colors, upturned or down, hard or soft or not at all.
When it is in bloom, it strikes the eye strongly, mimicking the sun.
Its stem is of uncertain shape, standing tall and thin or short and thin and bending.
Sometimes its stem is short and fat, or it is of another shape entirely.
It is a comfort amid darkness and a blinding vision.
Let the one who knows say what it is.

Friday, December 18, 2015


It should be obvious that I slept in again. I am annoyed by the repeated occurrence (it turns out that one of the days was a result of my having silenced my phone--which I use as an alarm clock, among others--despite having set the alarm), although obviously not enough to actually do anything about it. I begin to wonder if fighting the tendency to do so is futile, if I ought simply to allow myself to have the sleep and benefit from it. But I also know that I continue to have things to do, and I have not often been smart enough to cut my losses; I doubt I will cease to inveigh against my oversleeping, whether or not I do anything in the near term to prevent myself from doing so (and I know that I likely will not do so). Complaining about things is an eminently popular occupation, after all, while fixing them is decidedly not; I think I will be in good company.

Irrespective of my sleeping habits, the weather around Sherwood Cottage has offered up a taste of winter (and talking about the weather seems another popular way to pass time). Yesterday saw snowfall. None accumulated, although the ground was wet by it (and I have an idea for a riddle: From an old father to an old mother, white came down, moistening; from what is left, life can emerge in the months to come). Temperatures dropped to suit, although forecasts indicated that they will rise again in coming days. It is not winter yet, to be sure, but it is clear that the Stark words in Martin's books hold true: Winter is coming. But I doubt the winter we will face is that against which the Wall stands, and that seems to me to be a good thing. I have no Valyrian steel or obsidian ready to hand, and my fire-making is not as good as it ought perhaps to be. I am an indoorsman, after all.

That I am a nerd should be obvious, not only from the paragraph above. I have not tried to hide it in a long, long time, if I ever actually made the attempt. If I did, I know it was not successful. Spending as much time reading as I have in my life, and reading the things I read (aside from ongoing freelance work, which treats mainstream materials that may be read without concern for nerdiness in most cases) mark me clearly as such a person, and I have suffered for it at times. (I am sensitive about the issue, as I think I have shown on at least two occasions.) I suffer for it less now than in the past, to be sure, but I have to wonder how much I continue to be hindered by my particular brand of nerdiness, and I wonder how I might work to keep Ms. 8 from making the same mistakes her father did and continues to do.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I did not sleep in as much today as in the past few days, but I was still abed longer than I feel I ought to have been. Work continues, of course, and as ever, time in which to do that work is precious. Spending it asleep is not the best thing to do, at least not for me. The Mrs. and Ms. 8 are, of course, still slumbering--and since the latter has only the work of growing and learning to do at this point, she perhaps does well to stay sleeping for the moment. The Mrs. will be heading to the pharmacy later, admittedly, and putting in a full day there; I ought not to be annoyed that she takes the chance to sleep that she does. And I am supposed to be working in such a way that those in my household need not work so hard. Am I not, since I am able to do such work (when I can haul my ass out of bed at a decent time, anyway)?

The work continues in the form of an ongoing freelance piece. I read the novel yesterday and started the write-up, getting a quarter of the way through the word count by putting together the peripheral materials: book review, analyses of various items, discussions of symbols and the like. Today will see me go through the text and summarize the chapters, condensing some six hundred pages into a few thousand words. The work is easy enough, although it does tend to drag a bit, and I find myself too easily distracted by other concerns. It also has to be woven in among my care for Ms. 8; doing the work well requires a level of focus I cannot offer while my daughter needs attention (hence part of my annoyance at not waking early enough to take better advantage of her still being asleep). But it will get done, almost certainly today; I tend to be able to do such things.

I write "almost certainly" because I do have to go run an errand today. Thanks to some contacts I made in an earlier endeavor, I have been tapped to pick up some extra teaching work at another local institution. I will have to go fill out the hiring paperwork later on today. While the extra teaching does increase my "regular" workload, it also brings in some extra money, which I appreciate greatly. It might help me leverage into full-time work, as well (if only minimally through the direct effects of adding to my CV and resume). From what I have been told, I will also be able to use the teaching to help increase my demonstration of commitment to diversity in the classroom, which should also be a help in hiring later on. And I was able to make a similar teaching load work during the fall term recently ended; I should be able to press on similarly in the spring.

That is, of course, provided I can wake up when I need to do so.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Today was another day of having slept in, much to my ongoing annoyance. I suppose I have needed the rest, but I also need to work, since there is more work to do. I have a freelance piece waiting for my attention, and while I have started the reading for it, I have only started the reading, plowing through maybe a quarter of the text thus far. I should be able to get the work done reasonably easily, but it will only happen if I sit down to do it--and I can only do that if I am awake. Sleeping in works against me, therefore, even if I am on something resembling a break, and even if I am still seeming to recover, a cough yet lingering with me.

Yesterday evening saw a bit of a date night for the Mrs. and me. We left Ms. 8 with a babysitter for a few hours; she seemed to have enjoyed herself, getting to play with a puppy, among others. Her mother and I went out for a nicer meal than we usually get--Ms. 8 does not always do well at restaurants, whether because of her...enthusiasm for the food or her agitation at sitting still for as long as she has to at a restaurant. We then went for a couple's facial. I had never had such a treatment before, and I was curious about doing so after an earlier instance of the Mrs. getting one. I was glad to indulge that curiosity yesterday evening.

The weather around Sherwood Cottage continues to show up as autumnal despite the approaching winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere, of course; I know the Southern operates inversely). Temperatures have ranged just into the range of freezing and up to the upper 50s and lower 60s F (around 15C). The sky has been largely clear, letting the sunlight down--although the sunlight is pale and wan, what with the angle of incidence. Sunset comes early, and if it is pretty to watch, it is also somewhat disconcerting to have full dark by half past six. I find that I long for fireplaces and mugs of cider, even if I am not truly so chilled as to receive their full benefit.

However matters may be in the air around Sherwood Cottage, within it, work continues. Freelancing still needs doing, as I have noted, since expenses continue in any event--and the bills must be paid. The Mrs. still has her things to do, offering tutorials and putting time in at the pharmacy. Ms. 8 continues to laugh and play and grow and throw tantrums when she is told "No"--which happens often, both because she tries to do things she should not and because she asks questions to which the negative answer is the correct one. And I, having slept overly long, have missed out on some of the time in which I could attend to any of them. It is not something that pleases me; I must do better.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Today is my brother's birthday, an occasion I have tended to mark (witness here, here, here, and here). I have yet to call him to wish him a happy birthday, but I think he is not yet awake; being the accomplished musician he is, his evenings and nights are often spent at gigs, and because he works later than I do, he sleeps later than I usually do (although I did sleep in again this morning, to my annoyance). At some more appropriate time today, I will call him; I did send a card, which I think might arrive in a timely fashion. If it does will arrive soon. I sent it on time, at least.

Ms. 8 is sitting on my lap, watching me write. She is braced against one of my arms, which does not necessarily help my typing. Having her with me does much to make me feel better, however; there is a great comfort in being seen as a source of comfort, and I know no other way to read an enacted desire to climb into my lap and snuggle against my too-flabby chest and belly than as a confirmation that I am a source of comfort for my little girl. So I can put up with not typing as well as I otherwise might. The hindrance is a wholly acceptable price to pay for knowing that my little girl loves me.

The Mrs. is making ready to head to work, to put in a full day working at a pharmacy counter. I am not certain how to regard the job she has had almost since joining me at Sherwood Cottage. It does give her work to do and a means of contributing financially to the household, both of which she has noted to me are desirable for her. It also represents an oddity; she is a trained scholar, holding multiple advanced degrees--none of which are in pharmaceutical work. There is something...uncomfortable about her being...relegated to such a position, and even if the money her work brings in is decidedly welcome, the...discomfort rankles.

Meanwhile, I finished a freelance piece yesterday, cranking out 7,500 words around doing the other things that needed doing. I played with Ms. 8, taking her outside for a bit and engaging her with blocks during the day. (I also absorbed a ferocious headbutt from her, one that stunned her; I hope she will not be quick to repeat the experience.) I also did some other writing off and on throughout the day, not while Ms. 8 needed my direct attention but where I could keep an eye on her as she played her little toddler games. The combination made for quite a good day, one I would not mind having repeated often. I like being able to get a lot of things done, and presumably done well; I expect that the freelance piece will be accepted, and Ms. 8 seems to have enjoyed most of the day.

Monday, December 14, 2015


It is the first working day after the semester has ended, and I am already finding maintaining my discipline difficult. I had meant to wake up an hour before I ended up doing so; the snooze button and I had a battle again, and if I struck it far more than it struck me, I have lost the battle by engaging in it at all. There is work I need to do, and since I will be home with Ms. 8 and the Mrs. will be running errands and going to her job, there is only so much time available to me to do that work. Ms. 8 needs attention, after all, and more than I can usually give while doing the kind of work that I do. I have some cushion, perhaps, because I can allow her to watch a select few shows, but I know that I would not do well to park her in front of the television while I do what I need to do--at least not for long. So I need to work early and while she naps--and the former would have been helped by my rising earlier than I seem to have done today.

There is a way in which I can combine some of the writing I need to do with keeping an eye on Ms. 8. A number of children's programs make use of the medieval to support their stories, continuing a tradition that extends in print back before the beginning of the twentieth century and which has been argued by Joyce Coleman and others to go back even into the medieval itself (she asserts that reading aloud served as entertainment for work at home, and that the reader selected was often one deemed to be in need of instruction). How the medieval is presented in such programs is something I have thought I would examine, allowing me both to look at what my daughter will see as or before she sees it and to gather information in support of the writing I do (with insufficient regularity, admittedly) on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. I may see about doing some of that today, in fact, although I am not yet sure of it.

Such potentials are good to contemplate. I often enjoy spending time with my daughter; I know it is something many fathers do not get to do as much as I do, and I am not unmindful of the privilege I enjoy in being able to do so. (It is not always easy to keep in mind when Ms. 8 throws a tantrum, as toddlers are wont to do.) Admittedly, I do continue to feel some tension among my calling to work the work I work--and it is a calling, as those who do the work know--my obligation to support my family--because I am raised as I am raised, and because I do have higher earning potential and ability at this point--and the domestic and familial. But Ms. 8 sleeps well and deeply, I do need to take breaks from the work, and when the Mrs. works, she earns; I am not given license to be blithe about getting things done, but things do get done, somehow, and in some strange way--provided I am diligent. So I need to regain my discipline.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


It is a small thing
I hold it close, even so
It is dear to me
Often used for several purposes
Handled several times most days
Not seldom put into a particular slot
Admittedly with some difficulty at times
There are times I put my hand into my pocket
To seek it
Feeling in my pants to be sure it remains
Where I want it to be
For from its end does much proceed
And I am invested in that proceeding

Who can say what the thing is
Let that person say it
But think carefully on what is said
For what it is may not be what it seems

Saturday, December 12, 2015


The Fall 2015 instructional term is done! Exams have been given and graded, grades and paperwork have been turned in, and I have even managed to compile my end-of-term report already. I am done, at least for now and at least with the work of teaching. Now, I get to turn my attention to other things, many of which I listed in yesterday's post to this webspace. I find myself excited at the opportunities presented, which is unusual and desirable.

One thing I know I will have to deal with, however, that I am not looking forward to treating is student complaints. I am aware of one that has already come in, one criticizing my ability to do simple math. I *do* err from time to time, and when I do, I *do* work to correct those errors; because I know I occasionally make mistakes, I looked back over the grades in question. My math was correct, which was the complaint made. Had there been a comment about my entering a grade incorrectly, perhaps matters might have been otherwise--but there was not, and so they were not. But I know that the one is only the first in what is likely to be a series. How many will come to me and how many will go to my superiors and demand an accounting is unclear; I can at least hope to avoid being called into meetings again. It does occasionally happen...

Aside from that, though, things look like they will be more or less good. Weather around Sherwood Cottage looks like it will be conducive to reading today; the sky is currently overcast, and rain is expected. The sound of water falling from a gray sky usually helps me take words from the page through my eyes and into my mind, which will make the freelancing easier. That is good, in turn, since I have been told that another order will be waiting for my attention soon--and since I will be available to do more such work, I am happy to have it coming in. (I remain a counterpoint to those who argue professorial indolence; I work as much during breaks as I do during the term, if not more. I am far from the only one who does so.)

Something else occurs to me as something to which I might look forward. I try each year to return to the touchstones of my reading life and of genres in which I do much work, re-reading Asimov's Foundation corpus (the Robot, Empire, and Foundation novels) and Tolkien's Middle-earth works (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings). I know that many would think it strange that I look to those works as cornerstones of my reading life, particularly since my academic attentions run to fundamental works of English literature. And it is certainly not the case that I devalue the trinity of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, or the greater canon that includes Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory, Spenser, Donne, and others. The Good Doctor and the Prince of Fantasists, though, ground my personal canon, if such a thing can be said to be. I read them early, and I read them often--and I think it shows. Getting back to my basics seems a thing worth doing from time to time, and I hope to have some time to do it.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Today will see the end of my exam-giving for the term. It will be the last time I see my students from the current term--save for a brave or foolhardy few whose names have appeared in the rosters for my classes in the term yet to come. If I am lucky and diligent, it will see the end of my grading work for the term, as well, save perhaps the few minutes I will need to spend to send my grades and materials along to where they need to go. That, though, is simply doing paperwork, which is not the same thing; it is not unlike my posting reports and the like to the blog and website I currently maintain for my teaching and other work.

That "other work" continues to increase. I have a new freelance piece in progress; I received the order for it not long after posting yesterday's blog. I am not far into the supporting reading at this point, as I felt I should take care of a few other things before turning to the new project, but what I have read, I like so far. It is making the work that I will need to do easier to do. Not all of the books I get to read for the freelance work do so; some of them have the opposite effect, whether because they are badly written (but still somehow attract attention and money; I have to figure out how so that I can do it) or because they are simply not concerned with such things (not that I really expect them to be). Having a piece that reads easily and facilitates writing up is therefore certainly welcome. I could stand to have more such pieces, indeed.

The "other work" also includes more research activity, not only in the conference paper I am expected to present at Kalamazoo and so must draft sometime between now and early May or the article I have begun to compile and hope to see published in a leading journal, but also my ongoing work on the Robin Hobb annotated bibliography I maintain on my website. A piece has arrived through interlibrary loan; I need to pick it up so that I can read it and offer a useful summary of it in my Fedwren Project. (I probably also ought to look at drafting a short essay explicating the title and the appropriateness thereof for the project.) How I will integrate that into the other work I have scheduled in the next few days is unclear to me, but it is clear that I will get the work done. There is no other way for matters to proceed.

So I shall press on through this day, seeing how much I can get done to clear me of the lingering duties of the term so that I can attend to the many other things that are mine to do. As ever, I look forward to a productive break. Perhaps this will be the time my hopes are realized.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I slept in a bit this morning after having gone to bed early last night. For the first time in a long time, I feel refreshed. I know that the sensation will not last long; I am going to have to get back to work soon enough, to be sure, and there are things happening in the next few weeks that will also disrupt my ability to remain rested. But for now, as the weather around Sherwood Cottage rebounds from a touch of winter into a healthy, comfortable autumn--and it is still autumn--I will enjoy the feeling of being at ease and ready to face what confronts me, little as does at the moment.

Part of why I say "little as does" is that my cough is much better this morning than yesterday morning. I am coughing far less, and when I do cough, it is more productive, leaving my lungs and nose and throat clearer each time. The cough does still remain, though, and I can still feel the pressure in my sinuses (which spikes uncomfortably when I do cough, to my annoyance), so I am not fully recovered, but things are still far, far better now than they were even at this time yesterday, let alone at this time last week. The improvement is decidedly welcome.

I am continuing to seek permanent positions, sending out letters to that end in plenty and in haste. I really should go through and count how many I have posted since the beginning of this calendar year--all while maintaining a research agenda, teaching my classes and grading the associated papers (as well as doing the online work I do in support of my teaching mission, currently here), carrying out freelance work (although there have been gaps in the ordering, such as one happening at the moment), and attending to the care of my family. I have the sense that I am at several hundred, and it is useful to be reminded that I do a damned lot of work, most of which does not end up paying even if it is done in the search for paying work.

The thought could be voiced that my working so hard not for money bespeaks my folly, and I concede that I have often felt the fool for doing what I do in the way I do it. At the same time, I do, at least at this point, have a goal in mind, an agenda I mean to pursue, and I have the hope that doing so will lead me to a place where I can be satisfied. I am not there yet; I am insufficiently secure for that to be the case, for me to say that it is enough. Satis means enough, remember, and so satisfaction, "enough-making," cannot be achieved without enough--and I dare not call it enough that does not allow me to take care of my family. I can do so now only with significant effort, the expenditure of which does tend to vitiate against my being there for my Mrs. and Ms. 8; it is not enough.

Someday, it might be.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Some smaller notes appear below. I never claimed I would always be coherent.

Exam-giving continues today. I am administering but one test, so things should go both easily and smoothly. I was able to get the Monday exams graded in a relatively short time, so I am confident I will be able to do the same with those I have today. That I know the text well and read quickly help, I think.

There are two tests for me to give on Friday. I have managed to draw Friday exams every term I have been at my current institution. It is something of an annoyance, although it is less so this term than it has been in others. My travel plans are not such that reward my being done earlier in the week. It is a small thing, but a useful one.

I have received official notice of my teaching schedule for the upcoming term. I have three sections of second-semester composition, at least at this point. My schedule is subject to change, of course, even up to the week before classes begin--if not up to the beginning of classes, itself. Such fluidity is one of the perks of life on the contingent faculty; if I could get non-academic employers to recognize the skills involved in successfully negotiating the dynamic environment and rapidly-shifting constraints of contingent academia, I think I could land private-sector jobs more easily. Perhaps I ought to think about how to explain it more effectively.

I got a freelance job done yesterday. Another has yet to come in. The job gave me a chance to read some Philip K. Dick, with whose work I was passingly familiar but which I had not previously read. I understand some of why he is as highly valued as he is. It is a welcome revelation, and it reminds me that I need to go through and read or re-read some of the other luminaries of the genre. Time will soon perhaps permit me to do so.

Time will also soon perhaps permit me to attend to other writing entirely. I have several projects in progress, of course, including at least one conference paper; I have perhaps noted that I was accepted (late) to present a piece on the Malorian Kay at the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies. Other papers are also waiting for me to do more work on them. It is difficult to do so while teaching and grading and freelancing so as to support the Mrs. and Ms. 8--as well as tending to the last while her mother is at work. The upcoming break and the lower teaching load of the spring should help with that.

I continue to cough. That matter seems to be improving; I have been good about following the prescribed course of treatment, and it seems to be helping. I am sure there is more I could do, though, even if I am not sure what that "more" is. It is a thing I can look into while I am overseeing today's test, perhaps.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


The first of the four exams I was assigned to administer this term is done. I have graded it and calculated my students' scores; they are more or less what I expected. There is a fair spread of grades among the class, ranging from an A to a couple of Ds; students tend to fail my classes only because of excessive absence or non-submission of work, and the one class suffered neither of those. How the other three classes will fall out remains to be seen. There are students in them who have failed out from absences alone; there are students in them who have not turned in the papers they are supposed to submit. They are not in all cases the same students. I imagine the complaints will be numerous and loud; they always are. But I can at least attest that I have done what I am supposed to do; they will not stand.

As exams draw on, so does my freelance work. I am in progress on a job, having read the assigned text and stubbed out the write-up I will be doing of it. I should be able to knock it out today, depending on how Ms. 8 acts. She has been acting out lately, screaming and stomping her feet loudly, shrieking for what seems like hours but really ranges only to one. I know that she is at the age where such is to be expected, but that does not make it any easier to endure--and there is little solution other than to endure. Disciplining her would be counterproductive at promoting quiet, after all, and I am not sure that it would teach her the lesson I want her to learn. The fact that I am not sure what that lesson is does not help me, either. The joys of parenthood are many and varied, it seems, and I find more and more of them.

I continue to wrestle with my cough. Things seem to be easing in that line, which I appreciate. I will be taking some important phone calls in the next few days, and it would be better for me not to hack my way through them. Also, coughing is exhausting and painful; having not often had lingering coughs, I had not remembered or realized that the act of coughing engages so much of the body and so sharply as it does. I live a sedentary life, anymore; the exercise is unusual and, in form, not entirely welcome. I need to get exercise, to be sure, but some that I control rather than that which breaks upon me without warning and wracks me sharply. And I imagine that I am not alone in making the assertion about needing exercise; it is getting to be the appropriate time of year for resolutions about new beginnings. I try not to make them, but I do need to get into some shape other than pear- or round.

That will have to happen after exams are done.

Monday, December 7, 2015


There are only a few more waves
Then you'll be at the shore
Dripping, maybe
But there
The swim done
You can do it
You can

Letting go is tempting
The swim has been exhausting
And cold
And you are not buoyant anyway
I know
But you need to not
You need to push on
Just a little longer

You'll make it to shore
There'll be a fire
You can come and get warm
There may be cocoa for you
Or tea or coffee
Warm blankets...
You can make it

Sunday, December 6, 2015


This is the last weekend of the term. The next few days will see me preside over and grade final exams in which my students, spread across four sections of first-semester composition, will proofread the (translated and altered) text of an Anglo-Saxon riddle, assert an answer to the riddle, and explain how the text justifies their answer. It is a thing I have discussed previously in this webspace to some extent (here), and it is a thing that I have discussed with my colleagues. Admittedly, not all feel the exercise to be an appropriate one; they have not said much with words, but even I can see the disapproval on faces from time to time. But many like what they hear about how I go about using such materials, and I take comfort from that.

The discussion of the exercise with my colleagues prompted the note that there is some argument against the perception of fragile-mindedness among the students in how they respond to the assignment. As I note in the earlier discussion of how my students answered Riddle 44 in class, few averred the "dirty" interpretation of the text--and even when the "dirty" interpretation was voiced, it was argued against, and successfully. More, the students enjoyed the work. Perhaps it was an artifact of a smallish class whose students had had the chance to learn one another (an earlier paper asked them to profile one another, building group cohesion), and perhaps (if I may flatter myself) I have succeeded in fostering an atmosphere of open inquiry and safety, but it seems that the students in the classes showed no signs of traumatization in approaching the text, no signs of recoiling in horror from an uncomfortable idea, no signs of being ready to run off and call the "PC police." It is a thing on which one of my colleagues, in particular, remarked, suggesting that I might work up a case study about the thing. I probably will not do so, admittedly; I am somewhat pressed for time, although I acknowledge that my colleague's idea is an excellent one. I think it offers a nucleus for a useful counterpoint to the refrain complaining about "kids these days."

Perhaps the students do complain more than they used to do. Perhaps things are thought of or acknowledged as problematic now that were not then. Many things are, depending on the then. As in an earlier note, I wonder at what then the people who complain about how things have changed think things ought to have stopped. At what point were things perfect? Why were they better? How were they better, and for whom? Hell, what does better even mean in such a context?

I note no answers are coming. Perhaps I am not owed them. But I have to wonder what is wrong that those who will trumpet so loudly about going back to a better time cannot name that time. And more people should wonder such wonderings.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Work continues. I intend to spend much of the day today at work with grading. When I manage to get the grading cleared, I will tend to the next freelance project that faces me--which ought to be fun, actually. The new project is one of the back-fill type I get every so often, looking at older materials that have been brought to new prominence. Working on such projects allows me to catch up on some of the reading I have long thought I ought to do but have not done due to the press of other reading that work demands I do. So that much is to the good.

I finally broke down and went to a clinic about the cough and cold I have been fighting for a long while now. The Mrs. persuaded me into it--not that it took much argument on her part, and not that I was actively resistant to doing so. (That I had not done so earlier is a measure more of my being lazy, tired, or otherwise taken up more than anything else.) I came away from the clinic with a couple of prescriptions--both filled--and a strong suggestion for an over-the-counter drug, and I have begun the course of treatment laid out for me. How much it will help is not yet clear to me, although I have to think that it will. I am tired of being sick. (I am also tired of being tired, but with exams coming next week, a little bit of rest is in view--after which I will be working again.)

One of the things I do in support of my teaching is maintain membership in the National Council of Teachers of English. As part of that membership, I receive a daily digest of online discussions among the membership. Recently, news has broken about the Washington Post allowing the use of singular they (here*), something about which I have commented on occasion (examples are here and here). With that news has come another onslaught of expressed vexation about the purported degradation of language from those who see themselves as bastions of good taste, "logic," and "linguistic principles." Never mind that the linguists I know--and I know a fair number--look at language as an evolving thing, not a static one; for them, change is change is change. Never mind that even in languages that track grammatical gender more rigorously than modern English there is not a necessary association of physical gender and grammatical gender. (I have noted before a case in German, here.) Never mind that taste--even good taste--changes, as should be evident from simply observing the world.

That there is so much resistance to such changes among those who teach in the liberal arts--even at the university level, I might note--and that the changes are coming from the private sector and from the expressed will of the people--that theoretical thing that is supposed to determine how the affairs of any just society are to be conducted, at least in the lip-service paid by many--seems to me to be at odds with much of the bilge pumped out from the mouths and keyboards of pundits I have heard and read and seen. But that will, of course, not matter; facts too seldom do.

*The piece also comments about the use by the New York Times of the gender-neutral courtesy title "Mx." I like this one, actually; it is simple, and it is accordant enough with existing forms that it does not strike the eye as too strange to use. I can see that it might produce confusion in such situations as my discussions of my family--while "the Mx." and "Mx. 8" might be fine, trying to differentiate among references to the many people in the family who would be "Mx. Name" would be a challenge. (Since I have a doctorate, I stand aside from the problem--I do not generally respond to "Mr. Name" anymore. I worked hard to be "Dr. Name" and am lucky to be able to claim "Prof. Name" at present.) Even "Mr. Name" while I lived with my parents and there were three people at the same address who could and should answer to that phrase was...interesting. So I suppose that the potential confusion is not enough of a reason not to move in such a way.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Only one day remains
One more cycle of classes
Before the tests

How many will attend?
How many care anymore?
Is there anything that can be done
In a day
In an hour
Maybe a touch more
That has not been done?

Is there any hope
That those who have
Not been reached
Will be reached
When they have not any other day?

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Things went well with my classes yesterday. I had known that, in preparation for the upcoming exam, I would offer my students a sort of walk-through, a guided practice. When I talked with them on Monday, discussing doing so, they suggested that they might like to have one of the "funnier" riddles to play with. After verifying the choice ("Really? Are you sure you can handle it?" "Yeah!"), I acceded to the request, and the guided practice yesterday treated the key riddle from the Exeter Book (usually numbered 44). Aaron K. Hostetter of Rutgers University translates it as follows:*

Something amazing hangs by
a man’s thigh —
under its lord’s nap
a hole at its head
It is stiff and hard—
it keeps its place well.
When the servant
heaves over his knee
his own garment,
wishes to greet
the usual hole
with his dangling head
that he has before
often filled up
equally long.

Hilarity ensued. After walking through the proofreading portion of the exercise--when I give riddles to my students, I embed usage errors into them, offering practice in finding and correcting such things that I continue to hope will transfer to the students' own writing--the students had a fine time offering answers and explaining how they correspond to the text. Several tumbled (pardon the pun) to the "correct" answer, calling it a key and explaining why they did so. One or two offered the ideas of swords and sheathes, which work decently enough.

Only a couple actually said "what everyone's thinking," asserting that the answer is, in fact, "penis," and arguing how the text upholds the interpretation. In one case, another student in the class offered up a counterargument, arguing halfheartedly against the "something amazing"--the counterargument student presents as male--and more emphatically against the "stiff and hard." A comment about the peril of persistence of penile erection was offered, and the student who argued that the answer is "penis" acknowledged the problem. That is, a student offered a considered opinion, another offered a considered refutation, and the first student accepted the refutation as valid. Exactly the kind of thing that is supposed to happen in the world happened in my classroom, and it did so because of a joke more than a thousand years old.

I am understandably pleased by this.

*I am using his translation because I do not want to dig mine out or do another one at the moment.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Work still continues. I was able to get the one freelance piece done yesterday, submitting a lengthier write-up than normal--particularly for a Patterson novel. But I was able to get some extra pay out of it, so I am not vexed at the longer text. (Oddly, though, the novel was not longer than Patterson usually writes. There was more going on in it than in most of his books, which is what prompted the longer treatment. Not all of it is to the good, though--but for those comments, I have to suggest that the reading guide I wrote be bought. The more who buy them, the more I get to write, and the more I get paid as a result. It works to my advantage.) I also got the quizzes graded that I needed to grade. The papers, however, remain, and I still need to translate the text I will be using for the students' exam. Consequently, I remain busy.

I also remain less than my best. I am still fighting a cold, and it is still making its way into my chest. This morning was particularly annoying. I took a cough suppressant so that I could get some sleep, and it worked insofar as it said it would. I stopped coughing once it took effect, and I slept more or less straight through the night. (The Mrs. woke me up once inadvertently.) When I woke, however, there were clots of phlegm in my throat, and clearing them was wholly unpleasant. Seeing globules of brown and green sputum that were only moments before inside me was not at all comforting, and having them come out in a staggered, splattering sequence was not comfortable. I am still coughing, still bringing stuff up, and it still annoys me. It interrupts what I want to do, and it hurts my chest to cough so much. I find that I have greater sympathy for some of the older members of my family; what I have been experiencing as a short-term, temporary thing was an enduring and more intense thing for them. So there is that.

This morning has tempted me to stay home from work, to do what I can to do try to recover. Crawling back into bed for as long as the Mrs. and Ms. 8 will let me sounds like a good idea. I dare not, however. I have already been away from work for illness this term, and I am not sure I have any leave time left. Too, it is the run-up to exams, and I already draw enough complaints from students as it is; I do not want one of them to be dereliction. And I am minded of something I am told a great-grandfather said, which I paraphrase because I do not remember the quote well enough: It is not as if I'll feel better lying in bed than I'll feel while working, and I can at least get something done.

I am an academic, after all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Work continues, of course. I am still trudging along on a freelance piece, slowed by a lingering cough as the cold I have had tries to homestead my chest. The real estate had already been claimed, but the landlord seems to be absent, and squatters are hard to fight off, indeed. Too, there is grading and more grading to do, since the stacks of papers remain in place and my students had a bit of a quiz yesterday. I am perhaps half through the latter, and grades have been good, overall, but two classes of work still remains on that assignment, and there are others I must handle.

Among them is the final exam my students will face. They elected to have an extended riddle, one they must proofread, solve, and explain their answers to. I am using the riddle as an opportunity to remain in practice in my field, as I argue in a piece I have under review at the moment; I am translating a riddle from the Exeter Book and adapting it for the purpose of the exam. It has been longer than I care to admit since I have done any kind of substantial translative work, and while I remain confident in my abilities and my access to resources, it is another task to which I must attend. There are many such, as I think I have made clear.

Another is the continuing pursuit of a permanent position. Applications for such things are coming due--they have been due, and I have been keeping up with them in large part. But, again, I have many tasks before me. Some serve to help with the applications--my work with riddles in the classroom has factored well into discussions of praxis and into interviews I have had from time to time, for example, and any research that I get done makes me look like a better candidate for professorship. Even the freelance work occasionally comes to bear; having professional writing experience makes me look more like I know what I am doing when I go up for jobs that teach writing or that require writing--which is most of the work I seek. (I know what my skills are.) It also occasionally helps when I apply for jobs that treat popular culture; I read many emergent bestsellers, and I am a nerd even yet, so I have some insight into what popular culture is telling itself that it likes. But I have to get word about such things into the right ears and before the right eyes. Finding such ears and eyes is a trick, and I am not sure I have mastered it. Getting the words right is one with which I have greater facility, but it still takes some doing.

That it does is part of why I continue to practice here, raving and occasionally posting something that is more or less lucid. (I do occasionally come back to my title. Unifying the writing helps.) The more I do, the more I become able to do--to a point. And I have to wonder when I will find that point...