Monday, February 29, 2016


Today is Leap Day, the quadrennial occurrence of a calendar hiccup that tries to put the common-use count of days back in line with the solar year. I have not previously marked the occasion; I had not started blogging in earnest last time it occurred. There is no shortage of commentary on the importance of the day, such as it is; I read it as being another Monday, one extra day before certain bills are due (but they are already paid, payday having happened and the usual sequence of events having taking place therefore). It is another day in which to work, and work continues.

At the moment, work focuses primarily on the classroom. I have an assignment ready to go for one of my classes, and I need to draft a sample of the current assignment and grade stacks of papers for the other three. Another assignment is coming in from the one class on Wednesday, as well, so I will not lack for things to do this week. As far as the draft assignment goes--and I draft assignments of the sort I expect from my students, but I still somehow do not do enough for them--it is a matter of collecting information and sketching it out. I should not have much trouble with the former. The latter, since I am not much of an artist (save, somehow, for overland maps, owing to my RPG experiences), may be a bit more troublesome. Still, doing it should have salubrious effects in securing future work; it will show that I can handle another type of work yet, and that should make me more attractive a candidate for any number of jobs.

For I am looking for work, as I may have mentioned. My current primary position (and I write "primary" because I am working three) is a visiting appointment; at some point, my visit will end, and I need to have a place to go once it does. Because I am under contract, I cannot look for "regular" work for a while, yet; I cannot start before the middle or end of May, and "regular" employers need workers now or sooner. But after already having sent out scores of job applications this year, and noting that those that coordinate with my current contract are...not entirely desirable, given my location and their instability, I am in something of a lull as far as applying for new work goes. It is not a matter of laziness; in the last couple of years, I have sent out more application materials than most people do in their lives. I am wearied by the work, though (even if I may have another application or two to do; I am unsure), and I am waiting for word on a few things that have promised to get back to me but have not done so yet. (I have to doubt whether the answer in such cases is anything other than "no.") So I have a bit of time to focus on other things, perhaps, those areas where work continues even on a once-in-four-years day.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


I got a haircut
A beard trim
And I feel better for both
But I feel guilty
For spending the money
Even though I know
I am not equipped
To tend to the matters

It is not the only thing
For which I feel guilt
Staying in the shower too long
Enjoying the shower at all
Sleeping later than I normally do
Using nicer sheets
Having a finger or two of Scotch of an evening
Not working in every waking moment
Not doing more with working time

I do not do enough to deserve niceness
Even those small luxuries
Judged against the standards in which I am immured
I allow myself to have
And that circumstances facilitate
But I am too weak to divest myself of them
And that is where the shame begins

Saturday, February 27, 2016


I was asked
How I do it
With several things being the

I answered
There is no other way
And it is true

It must be done
I must do it
I do it

I should reflect on it
I should be able to find an answer
Find a way to bottle it
And sell it

That is the way
Is it not?

Friday, February 26, 2016


Some thoughts:

As I was getting dressed this morning, I noticed again that my socks are branded. That is, they display the name of the company than makes them. Normally, I do not approve of such things; I resent the implication that I am paying to be a company's advertisement. My socks stay largely hidden, though, so it is not so much of a problem. Too, the company name is on the sole of the sock, ideally at the ball of the foot. Whether I am to read this as me grinding the company underfoot or as me relying on its uplift and support as I go about my day is not clear to me. Admittedly, much is unclear to me.

My tutee asked a few lessons ago to be given reading exercises. The one we began yesterday is taken from Geoff Nunberg's "Changes to French Spelling Make Us Wonder: Why Is English So Weird?" (Yes, the capitalization is correct; the "so" functions adverbially.) In the piece, Nunberg describes arguments surrounding the to-take-effect-soon changes to French orthography as "entertainingly Gallic," and the tutee asked me what "Gallic" is. I replied as honestly as I can. It is a callback to Latin, seen most prominently in Cæsar's De Bello Gallico and its opening statement that "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres." That is, the area now called France was earlier called Gaul, its people the Gauls, which render in Latin as Gallia and Galli. Interestingly, Cassell's Latin Dictionary also notes that gallus, plural galli, also means "cock" in the sense of the rooster--a connection acknowledged in the figure of the French le coq gaulois, so that people seem in on the joke. And, then as now and there as here, "cock" also reads as a euphemistic reference to male genitals. (Admittedly, quite a bit can be read thus.) In essence, Nunberg can be read as calling the French dicks--something in which he is far from alone. The tutee laughed about it.

I completed a slate of contract work yesterday. In total, I spent less than a week of working time on the job; it was not forty hours spread over several weeks. The authorized payout is not insignificant, particularly given my personal finances. I would be happy to continue to do such work in the future; I would do so consistently if the work were available consistently. It is not, certainly not so much as my novel write-ups (of which I still have one to complete), so I still need to keep a day job. (Benefits are also a concern.) Still, it is a nice addition to the support of Sherwood Cottage, and it is to support the household that my work continues.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


This morning got off to a shaky start. As I was getting ready to take my shower, an earthquake made itself felt at Sherwood Cottage. I have not yet seen relevant data about it, but I do not need to to know that I was disturbed by the event. There is something eerie about hearing toilet water slosh around without having dropped something into it yet. (I do note, however, that a toilet is a wonderful place to be startled. If there is any place worth being when the crap is scared out...) But that part was not the most annoying; after all, with Oklahoma being the world leader in seismic activity, the ground shaking has become a common occurrence in the area of Sherwood Cottage. No, what was worse was that shortly after the shaking stopped, the circuit breaker governing the electrical circuit that feeds the bathroom (and bedrooms) flipped off. I got to put my pants back on (I was getting ready for my shower, remember) and go out to address the issue. It was easily enough done, but it disrupted the easy, accustomed flow of my morning, and I have to wonder what effects it will have on me for the rest of the day.

I make such a comment because work continues today. I am still working on the freelance project noted yesterday, having put together between a fifth and a quarter of the project. Additionally, I have at least one tutorial meeting; students are clamoring for my attention in advance of a project being due in its final version tomorrow. I have a conference call this afternoon, as well, which will pay me a fair bit for my time and attention, so I will be sitting for it. And I have a short stack of papers to assess, collected from a class taught at the local community college. There is no shortage of things for me to do today, as is true of most every day, so I need to be in good form so that I may address the lot. This morning did not help me get off to a good start; I will do what I can to plow through, because I must, but I have my suspicions about how things will go.

In the past, I have been told both that such thoughts make me oddly superstitious and that they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. (Admittedly, I was not told these things by the same people.) It seems to me, though, that the two are mutually exclusive, with superstition taking as irrational the belief that such forecasting or omen-reading as I might be thought to do is accurate and self-fulfilling prophecy necessarily noting that what is predicted happens because it is predicted. Neither offers a solution; ignoring the events of the day leads to discontinuity and a failure to learn, while self-fulfilling prophecy seems only to work in one direction: the unpleasant. (The Good Doctor addresses the issue directly in Prelude to Foundation. And I am reminded that I need to re-read the novel yet again--as well as the rest of the series it heads. Someday, when I have time and a bit more stable footing...)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Work continues, of course. I read the novel I will be writing up next: Jeffrey Archer's Cometh the Hour. I found it enjoyable, in part because I read its predecessor for freelance work last year, so I had already had the opportunity to invest in the characters and organizations depicted in the text. Entering a series late always presents difficulties; one of the marks of good authorship is that the writer is able to continue the narrative in such a way as to allow understanding of current events without demanding recourse to the earlier works--although a good author will also invite the additional reading. At some point, time permitting, I may well go back and read the earlier volumes in Archer's series, as well as earlier volumes in some other series I have encountered through doing the freelance write-ups. Maybe it will happen again--because it has happened before--that I will be asked to do so for the freelance work; that seems an ideal option.

The thought has occurred to me, of course, that I might do the kinds of write-ups I do for freelance orders independently of them. I would not repeat orders I have already done, certainly, but there are many other texts to address, many more than I am likely to be asked to treat, and a market for such things is evidently available, given how many such offerings are out in the world. Certain genres and authors suggest themselves as wanting attention, and some of them are even on my bookshelves. Perhaps I will turn to such writing in and among my other, more scholarly projects, or as a thing to do once I get a few of them done; there are many that yet need me to complete them, to which I mean to turn relatively soon. I just have to get a few other things done first; what I do for pay has to come before what I do for other than pay, at least for now. Sherwood Cottage and its indwellers need the money, but I do need to get my projects out of my head and onto the page. I am not Yggdrasil, and they collectively are not Níðhöggr, but they do gnaw at my roots, and I will fall if they eat their way through them all.

For now, though, I have ordered work to attend to. It pays decently enough, allowing me to make money doing something I enjoy doing. I do get to read mass-market books that are likely to be understood and appreciated by the broad public, allowing me some chance to talk to people outside the discipline--and that is a thing that is foregrounded as problematic in many of the narratives traded in and about academia. It allows me to put to use the skill sets I developed in my childhood and youth, offering me some explicit benefit to having had my nose in a book for so much of the time as I did. For the most part, I enjoy the work; I like being able to read things and say, even if only briefly, intelligent things about them. And if I am "over-trained" or "over-qualified" for such work, then it makes doing it all the easier.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


As should be expected, work continues. I will be giving a tutorial tonight, which I expect to go well; the tutee is a good one, and the subject matter involved is agreeable to both of us. Also, a freelance order came in yesterday; I will need to purchase the book for it and begin to read so that I can do the write-up and hopefully pull in some money therefrom. I certainly need it; bills continue to filter in, and although I am getting them paid, their timing is not aligned well to my flow of income. I have less cushion than I would prefer, and it vexes me. I am trying to build up a bit more padding so that I can move ahead with a bit more confidence into the ultimately uncertain circumstances I face and that my family necessarily faces with me. Problematic as it is, the household finances depend upon my efforts almost entirely; the Mrs. works and earns, to be sure, but only one part to my three or four. It is not right, necessarily, but it is as it is, and so I am glad that work continues.

As far as the family goes: Things are returning to their slim semblance of normalcy after the weekend's birthday celebrations. Ms. 8 has been enjoying the gifts given to her by family and friends, exulting in having art supplies and another doll, and enjoying having a new setup for her bedroom. The Mrs. and I bought and set up a bin organizer for her, one that keeps many of her toys off of the ground yet still accessible to her; Ms. 8 gets to play easily, and she does reasonably well at putting things away when she is reminded to do so. At two, she does still need to be reminded, but that is hardly unexpected. (Nor are the occasional tantrums at being denied her wishes to go with her mother to work or at being rebuked for upending juice boxes and water bottles on floors just cleaned.) She remains a delight, and I hope to be able to help her remain so (while still helping her to have what she needs to be able to make her way and not be bound by oppressive gender norms).

I worry about such things, of course. I do not want Ms. 8 to have the same kinds of social problems I did; my mouth got me into quite a bit of trouble, and my inclination towards solitude and quiet has made some professional things more difficult for me than they would otherwise be. The latter does not seem to be a problem for the girl; she is quite outgoing. But the former may yet be. At the same time, I do not want her to feel forced into conformity; I do not want her to grow into the kind of person who cannot conceive of things outside the norm as valuable and desirable instead of shameful for the simple reason of otherness. (There are things outside the norm that should be shameful, of course, but they are shameful because shameful, not because other.) I am not well equipped to help her in such a way, however, and it worries me. It is part of why I work; perhaps by doing so, I can provide her with what she needs to be who she ultimately is.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Work continues again, as it ever seemingly must. I spent most of the day yesterday grading, plowing through three classes' papers. That one class was scanty of submissions helped in that regard, but it was still not the most pleasant way to spend the day. The simple lack of attention to detail on display was not a happy thing to see--and most of the problems in the students' papers bespeak a lack of attention more than anything else. I suppose it is an issue of youth--I am teaching sections of second-semester composition--and the perception that my classes do not matter; I can hope, at least, that the students' in-major coursework receives more attention and thought than mine. This is not because I devalue my classes, as should be obvious, but because the thought of engineers and veterinarians treating structures and animals as I have seen writing assignments get treated is chilling. I have enjoyed the mild winter; I do not need such cold.

Today, I am in the classroom with four sections. Three will be reviewing a new assignment sheet. The fourth will be workshopping a paper that will come in Wednesday; it should be an easy day at my regular and secondary jobs. I have an outside project that requires more attention, as well--not because I screwed up, but because the system used to do it did. I will be paid for the time already spent and the time taken to re-do the work, though; although I am somewhat miffed that I have to re-do work already done, I am being compensated for my time and trouble, so I do not complain of the event. Maybe I will have time to put toward other projects yet, given what I know of how things go with the tasks already facing me; maybe another freelance order will come up, and maybe I will be able to put some time and effort towards other endeavors that need my attention and have not been getting it recently. I can hope so, in any event.

To turn: Ms. 8 had a fine birthday and weekend following. Her grandparents joined us at and around Sherwood Cottage, as did a couple of her cousins. They came to celebrate with us, and we had a good time of it, playing a fair bit and eating well. Leftovers have piled up, which I do not mind; I have less cooking to do in the next few days than might otherwise have been the case, and I am happy to have to do less work to gain the same results. The excitement seems to have prompted more development from Ms. 8; she has more new words now, and she has been playing with her presents interestingly already. She has also been enthusiastic, her face lighting up at being given things; I am filled with hope for her. If I am to help that hope be fulfilled, however, I will have much work to do--and it always seems to come back to that point, that work continues.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


A few hours of quiet
After many hours
Of delighted childish glee
And before
Another hour
Or so
Of the press
Of families holding close
One more time
Before parting once again
And I will have to get back to work.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


The teacher asked
If the student had been in class
The student said
I don't remember
This is the teacher's fault
Of course
Because it always is
Never mind that the student was late
Never mind that the student reeked of
Some intoxicant or another
And sat with glassy eyes
Until the student looked down
At a crotch-held phone
Working a hand between the legs
And stroking back and forth

Friday, February 19, 2016


Today is Ms. 8's second birthday. I have discussed the occasion and commemoration of her birth before, of course (here and here, respectively), and I am happy to note that Ms. 8 seems not to need to be in the hospital this time around. It is the first birthday for which that appears to be true, and I hope that nothing happens during the day that will cause a change to that status. She remains a wonder, strong and clever, inquisitive and assertive, affectionate and just smart-ass enough to be entertaining. I am lucky to have such a daughter, increasingly so, even if she does oblige me to do a whole lot more work than would otherwise have been the case. (I shall have revenge, of course. She will have chores to do when she has a few more years on her. And she has me for a father...muwahahahahaa!)

On that note, work continues. I pushed through another freelance write-up yesterday, one treating Pierce Brown's Morning Star. I had not read its two predecessor volumes, so there was a bit of a learning curve for me to face, but the work was enjoyable. Without saying too much about it or giving a more formal review (I have one in the write-up), I can note that it is firmly embedded in science fiction genre conventions, as a number of figures and surface descriptions echo earlier masterworks of the genre--and some that are not quite "master" works. Had I the time to go back and read the earlier volumes (which may happen, depending on client needs), I would be inclined to write a paper tracing some of those references. I do not think it would be hard to do, but I know I will not be the one to do it. Time, as I note, is a concern, and I already have many other projects.

Grading will continue, as well. Three sets of papers are due to come in today. I doubt any of them will be complete; I have not yet had one that is this semester (which annoys in one sense but pleases in another, as fewer papers submitted means fewer papers need grading). Given the assignment, I do have a relatively tight turnaround on them, and given how my classes handled the last such assignment, there is some reason for me to offer commentary on the work. Students this term seem to be taking my comments to heart, much more than I have come to expect across years of teaching. It is rewarding to see my concerns addressed, and I can hope that the tendency will continue. Perhaps it will manifest well in teaching evaluations later on, whether those conducted institutionally or those conducted less formally but more publicly. I do not think it can hurt--when I attend to the grading after my daughter has had her birthday.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


As I was in the shower this morning, a little wooden placard or sign I remember hanging in either my uncle's or my grandmother's house came to mind. It read "The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get," and although the usage is likely to make prescriptivists cringe, there is something about the central message that resonates. Work continues, and in abundance, and I am doing what I can to address each of the tasks that lies before me. I am well into the current write-up, for example, with another project waiting, a tutorial to give tonight, stacks of papers coming in, family coming up over the next few days, and my daughter's birthday tomorrow (about which more then, obviously). As I do more, I find that I have more to do; the more I work to clear out my docket, the deeper it becomes. The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.

Leaving aside the kind of whining I did yesterday--and, yes, I acknowledge falling into the "traditional" bloggers' trap of whining in pseudo-anonymity online--I do find the situation frustrating. How often have I been told "Work hard and you'll succeed?" I work three jobs at present, and I work hard at each of them, putting in long hours of dedicated, focused mental labor. And I like to think I am good at the work I do; I have several attestations to that effect. I am also struggling to keep my family in "decent" shape, with food on the table that is not so full of additives as might be the case and that encourages my daughter to eat a diversity of things (and she does, I might add, including quite a bit of fruit and vegetable) and a roof overhead that does not leak, with plumbing that works more or less well and walls that keep out much of the wind and weather. I would like not to have to worry so much about it, to see the 60 hours and more a week I work do more to secure my family's stability than they do. I would like to see fulfilled the promise that hard work will lead to success as the community defines it (because I am well aware that things could be much worse, and I appreciate that they are not--but that does not mean they are as they ought to be). And I am frustrated--justifiably, I think--that it does not seem to be. Should I not be annoyed or more at being lied to?

In the meantime, though, I continue to look for a stable employment situation while I work the three jobs (full-time, part-time, and freelance) that are mine to do, as well as taking care of Ms. 8 while her mother works her own job and looks for other work yet. It is all that can be done, so far as I can see, although I will admit that walls rise high around me and limit what I can look at.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


As is to be expected, work continues. Yesterday saw me read a novel and begin its write-up; I will continue to work on it today once my teaching day is done. Yesterday also saw me give my usual tutorial, which went well; I will be drafting a short homework assignment and a couple of oral reading passages for the tutee, both per the tutee's request. And the regular work of what I do in and for the classroom will need doing, as well. If I am to continue to make such reports as can be found here, I have some writing to do, and some attention-paying so as to have something about which to write. But nothing about any of the above is a surprise; I know that I will be busy, always.

I know that it will read as if I am bemoaning my lot; I can certainly understand how such an impression might come to be. And I do complain about it at points--but, as I have noted once or twice, the complaints that many others have about their jobs are accepted as perhaps annoying but not without justification. I am not looking to leave the profession at this point; I am, in fact, taking substantial measures to remain within it, as the dozens of job applications I have sent out in 2016 so far attest. I am frustrated that my efforts seem to result in so little, certainly, and that my situation is such that I cannot afford to plan for the long term due to the demands of the short. The furthest forward I can see is the eventual payoff of several loans I have outstanding; maybe by then, I can start thinking about saving for a retirement that is likely never to come. But that is doubtful, as is the idea that I will ever be able to stop working. (And, honestly, I more or less expect to die on the job. It would be better than dying in bed next to my wife; imagine that wake-up call.)

Before the notes come in that I should stop complaining and try to do more--tell me what the hell that "more" is. I already send out more job applications in a month than many have done in their whole lives. I already work seven days a week most weeks, including most holidays, and well over eight hours in each of them. I am already working three different jobs (one full-time, one part-time, and freelancing). What can I do with the twenty minutes I take to write in this webspace most mornings, during which I drink my first cup of coffee (because I do not suffice to the tasks on my own, as I have noted), that would actually help matters? Unless such answers are forthcoming, unless there is some kind of help available--quit complaining and go do something useful.

Why should you be held to a lesser standard than you seek to impose upon me?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I am aware that I am later than normal in getting this bit of writing done. Ms. 8 woke me several times during the night, so I let myself sleep a bit later to account for the difference. Whether it has been helpful or not, I am not yet sure. I am not suffering the headache that afflicts me from too little sleep at a stretch, which is good, but I am still sluggish in my thoughts, which is less so (even if it does not show up in the writing that I do as others see it; I am having to retype things more than normal, however, so it shows up to me plainly). And, just so everybody knows, Ms. 8 is fine; she just needed to be reassured that her parents are nearby and that they love her. It helps her sleep, even if it has the opposite effect on me. (I shall have my revenge, of course. "Daylight's wasting" is among the traditional dad lines, and I am waiting for opportune deployments thereof...)

Aside from the delay, the normal work continues. My classes did their expected things yesterday, although I note that attendance was particularly poor; the school was not closed for the federal holiday, but many of the students seem to have thought that it would be despite having activities scheduled in class and being reminded--repeatedly, in print and mouth to ear--that the schedule was as it was. At least my grading was eased thereby; non-performance is quickly and decisively assessed. And I should have a few days free of grading that I can put to the service of other ends, for a freelance piece has come up (and I would like to get it done in some haste so that I can have more immediate cash-flow, as well as clearing my docket), and an ongoing project is moving into a high-paying final stage (hence the need for docket-clearing). So, as usual, I am busy, and, as usual, I will figure out some way to get everything done--and it will probably be the usual way.

Less usual is the weather around Sherwood Cottage. It has been unseasonably warm--indeed, the winter as a whole has been atypically mild. I am not complaining of the event, of course; milder weather means lower utility costs to me, and I am generally for lower costs to me. But I have to wonder about causes and effects. I have to wonder, too, if there is not a brutal snap of cold coming, one that will wait for the plants to grow--and they are beginning to green up again--only to sweep in and choke the life out of them all in a deep and arctic chill. Later freezes are problematic, particularly for a number of things I like to eat (or to have fermented tastily), and if a personality can be assigned to the world, it is surely a smart-alecky one.

No wonder I immerse myself in my work.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Today would have been my maternal grandmother's eighty-seventh birthday. As I have noted, however, she passed on last year. I have marked the day in this webspace several times before (here, here, and here), and I have written of her elsewise (here, for example, and I still have the bookmark; it is tucked into one of the display copies I keep on a prominent shelf, marking the beginning of a particularly moving story). But other than making a note such as this, and maybe calling my mother to talk about the matter for a little bit, there is nothing else to mark of her this year. She is gone, as the rest of us will someday be; there is no changing it.

Hers is not the only death that comes to mind at the moment, of course. I have not heretofore commented about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia--or about the ridiculous conspiracy theories that have sprung up surrounding that death, or the inanity of demands that a sitting President not nominate candidates to fill the now-vacant seat on the nation's highest court, although perhaps glancingly about the rapidity with which those demands began to be made (here, with some ripe language)--and, at this point, there is little if anything I can say about the matter. How I feel can be guessed at, I am certain, but whether or not that feeling matters is a different question altogether. (The answer is "no." I am not in a position to influence events.)

It remains only to move forward and see to the ongoing business of living. To that end, work continues; I spent yesterday pushing through a 5,000-word write-up of a popular novel, one I mean to plumb for information for another, ongoing project. I have not attended to said project in entirely too long, and I was supposed to have help with it; the help has not been in place, more's the pity. Still, perhaps I can drum up some support. Teaching will be going on, of course, not only the four classes with which I would normally meet on a Monday, but a bit of outside tutoring, as well. (The tutee is a different one than my Tuesday/Thursday meetings, as well as either of my previous tutees in the midst of Pokes country.) Whether or not I will have time to attend to anything else, other than Ms. 8 and the Mrs., is doubtful, but they provide me enough to do that I will be far from bored.

What else, then, is there to say? I have things to do; it is time I attend to them.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


We marvel
Shake our heads sadly
Grimace with disgust
That the world has changed
And how it has changed
In essence
It has not changed
The same sorts of people
Lived in the amorphous then
As do now
And in the same proportions
(More or less
Scaling introduces rounding errors;
Despite the protestations
Of too many fucking idiots--
And, yes,
Those ARE the right words--
People are not
Even if they ARE fucking idiots)
There were assholes then
Sanctimonious jerks in positions of power
Claiming to uphold laws and decency
"The way things ought to be"
While privately violating those same standards

Only two differences emerge.
The first
Is that we hear about it more often and more quickly.
The second
Is that we are more willing to tolerate it when we hear about it.
Who will ask
"Have you no decency?"
Among those whose voices will be heard?

It annoys, to be sure.
It is the cost to be paid for things we like, to be equally sure.
I would rather be annoyed
Than not have what the annoyance affords me.

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Of course the world's a mess
Look who lives here
You know
They don't have their shit together
And they never have
Probably never will
And no wonder
Look at how they were raised
I mean
They're responsible for themselves
But you've gotta wonder
What chance they had
Growing up like that
It's not an excuse
Of course
They could do better
Pull themselves up by their bootstraps
Clean up
Get jobs
Be more like us
And things'd be better
Less fucked up
By fuckups like them
I've been pointing at the mirror again
Haven't I?

Friday, February 12, 2016


I wrote yesterday and the day before about the association of black coffee and hard work in popular novels, both as an emblem of it and as a signal that those who do it cannot do it alone. Yesterday, I began to move the topic back to its valence in "real life." (I put the phrase in scare quotes because I have been told before that I do not understand "real life" or the "real world." Clearly, then, my perspective on matters must be taken into account--but I have no better terms to use.) And there is a reason to do so other than to put out some small, anecdotal examples. (I avoid going into textual specifics here because of time and because I may want to apply the rubric I develop here to papers I might like to publish. Prior online posting makes that somewhat problematic.) That reason is that the stories we consume are the stories in which we see ourselves; art imitates life, and all that. If a symbol or image appears repeatedly in mainstream popular media, it signifies either that the producers of those media believe the symbol will resonate with (paying) consumers or that the association the symbol embodies is itself embedded in the producers. Or both.

That such a thing is true is some of the justification for humanistic study, generally, and popular culture studies, specifically. The things we do are indicative of who we are; the things we take in are formative of who we are. Humanistic studies treat both, looking at what the things we do are and what they reveal about us, as well as at what the things we take in are and what messages they embed in us--often without our realizing it. "It's just a story" is never the case; it is never just a story, or a sculpture, or a poem, or a painting, or a dance, or waza. Each is revelatory of author and audience, a way in which we make sense of ourselves, each other, and the world in which we are enmeshed. Each is therefore worth no small amount of attention, focused and dedicated, even if those whose attentions are (and perhaps should be) elsewhere do not fully understand the focus afforded.

For such a symbol as coffee, which can (and this is true of many symbols) be read as contradicting itself, this is not less true. That there is an association between black coffee and hard work in popular novels does bespeak prevailing cultural patterns, many of which are tacit. (Explicating them, bringing them to attention in detail, helps promote understanding of those patterns, as well as facilitating control over them.) That the pattern is problematic in that it also indicates the opposite of what it seems initially to show is not so much an instance of humanistic obfuscation (although I can understand why people might want to think that) as an accordance with the "real world"--at least insofar as I understand it to be. Life is complex, and people are contradictory. Why, then, should the symbols people use to try to reflect that life and those people not be the same?

I am sure that others have spoken to the topic at greater length and more eloquently than I have here. But I think the message bears repeating, nonetheless.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


I noted yesterday that there is a strong association in popular novels between black coffee and working-class backgrounds, one that links the bitter black brew to hard work and diligence. Those characters who insist upon it--and who are not seldom depicted as deriding more complicated coffees or refusing to fuss with them--are often the more experienced, senior characters, those who know how things work and are utterly reliable, even if they are not necessarily the most pleasant to be around. Black coffee is thus related strongly to getting things done and to the rock-solid underpinnings of the groups with which many popular novels concern themselves.

I also noted yesterday, however, that black coffee serves as an acknowledgement that the characters in question do not suffice on their own. Because it is seen as more "pure" than other coffees, black coffee is not generally associated in popular novels with drinking because of its flavor; the coffee drunk by the workhorse characters is, in fact, usually described as being nigh-undrinkable for anybody else. (I believe I speak to this in another post to this webspace, here.) Instead, it is drunk from need--and because it is drunk from need, rather than desire, it falls into a different category than other drinks. It begins to bespeak insufficiency on the part of its drinker.

The thought arises that any need bespeaks insufficiency, and all characters have needs. They must eat, for example, and the thought that they do not suffice because they need to have a meal now and again does not seem a good one. But there is a difference. Food is necessary; people will die who do not eat. Coffee, much as it may be enjoyed or relied upon, is not necessary. Life does not depend on it; those who do not drink it will not die from its lack. Thus, while addressing some needs does not make a character insufficient, coffee remains something that can be read as indicating its drinkers are not equal to the challenges that face them.

As one who drinks no small amount of coffee--indeed, one who emptied a cup while writing this--I can speak to the matter. A lack of coffee for many of us accustomed to drinking it imposes headaches that no aspirin or acetaminophen will remove. I find myself sluggish both in body and mind, unable to do much that I would otherwise do because I cannot work as quickly as I ought to work (especially with how much work continues) and because I cannot work with as great a quality of work as I usually evidence (which I invite my readers to interpret for themselves, favorably or otherwise). Others I have known have made similar reports, and if our testimonies are anecdotal, I am not aware of any whose experiences of drinking coffee and then not argue against ours.

I am sure there is more to be said about the matter, but I need to refill my cup now. Perhaps I will return to the topic tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I have written in this webspace before of my association with coffee; here seems as good a place as any to point out where. It should be no shock, then, to know that I note the appearance of coffee in the works I read--and it does appear in the books I read, certainly. I have identified it as a trope and a symbol in several of the popular novels I have read and written up at the behest of my freelance clientele, and I note that, in most cases, the protagonists of what I read take their coffee black.

A certain part of me wants to read affectively, using the insistence on black coffee as a means of fostering identity between the characters and me. Other parts of me know that 1) That is why the authors write their characters such, and it is good for book sales; and 2) I need not to read in such a way if I am to achieve the distance needed to do deeper reading. (The disjunction between the readerly tendency towards affect and the critical need to eschew it is part of the reason those of us who study literature are often thought to be dry and to have lost the love of what we do. For me, though, and at least, effective reading begins with affective reading; I use what provokes my emotional responses to guide my initial critical ventures. It works well enough.) I do a fair bit of the deeper reading, even for the general-consumption freelance pieces, including reading for how coffee is depicted (other than as a means to develop affect).

I have commented before, for example, that my taking my coffee black links me to my working-class background. Indeed, I learned to drink my coffee black--and it is a learned thing--on job sites, as going out into the Texas Hill Country on summer mornings did not reward taking along cream, but strong cups of coffee were of no small help in getting the work done. For me, therefore, there is a strong association between black coffee and hard work, and I have reason to think I am not the only one who makes the association. Those protagonists in the works I read who are coffee drinkers usually hail from working-class backgrounds. There are many of them, and they appear in no small number of bestselling novels. As such, I have to think that they are resonant with many readers, which would suggest that the idea of black coffee promoting hard work is widespread. There is something in the idealized person, the current iteration of the Emersonian Man (and, yes, I am aware of the problems embedded in that particular construct and phrasing, but that it is problematic does not mean it is not prevalent, and it would not be good to ignore it therefore), that asks for black coffee--even if it still serves as something of a crutch, an acknowledgment that the person alone does not suffice to the demands of the day.

I think I may have to come back to this idea tomorrow. I feel like I am onto something in some small, informal way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Work continues, as ever it must. I still have grading to do, because I was unable to attend to it in any meaningful way yesterday. I also have the tutorial session I mentioned yesterday, although I feel more or less ready for that. Classroom work yesterday ran into some of the same things that I mean to discuss with the tutee today, so I got a bit of preparation without having realized I would do so. Additionally, a freelance order has come in; I have bought the book for it, but I have not started working on the project in any serious way. I am debating whether or not to do so before attending to the grading. I get paid more for doing more freelance work, which is not true of marking papers, but if I push back the grading further, then I will end up having it pile up on me, and that produces its own set of problems. Again, echoing the Claudius of Hamlet, "like a man to double business bound / I stand in pause where I shall first begin / And both neglect" (3.3).

That I would reference Shakespeare, and perhaps the most notable of his plays, makes sense enough. I am among the professoriate in English, after all; if anyone would reference the Bard, it would be someone who teaches English languages and literatures. More, I work with the old stuff, and Billy Shakes is old English, but not Old English by any stretch. Show me þ or ð in his work, for example. (I know that æ can be found therein, but Latin loves that digraph, too, and the Cæsars are in his corpus.) He is after Gower and Chaucer, the old standard of Middle English and the shining example of what that language could do, borrowing from both liberally. But it would be expected that I would rail against the assertion, too often heard, that Shakespeare is in Old English; I am among the professoriate, specializing in Englishes older than that of the Swan of Avon, primed for pedantry pointless among the quotidian.

I am not the only one who makes such references, of course. There are many who seek to cloak themselves in intellectualism and elitism, and references to (problematic) literary canons can help with that. (This is true irrespective of the canon deployed. Referencing falling as Huor did is no less snobby than claiming to be the Don Pedro to another's Dogberry.) They are rightly decried. But there are also many who exult in the love of language and literature, or who use references to things to situate themselves among them, or to indicate for the attentive reader what is to come--as the Shakespearean references in Station Eleven do, for one example among many others. They use them to tap into what they think is a common cultural bond and thereby reaffirm that bond--and it may have problems. Solving such problems, though, is but one way in which work continues.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Work continues, as ever it must. I was not diligent over the weekend, so that while I did some few things (of which one appears here and another here), I did not do the grading that I was supposed to do. It remains in need of my attention, therefore, and it has found some company. I will be giving a private tutorial tomorrow, for which I need to prepare some materials, and I have finally gotten another freelance order in. Both will yield some additional funds, which those who dwell at Sherwood Cottage can certainly use, but both will demand more time, and that is always a problem. I suppose it is for the best, though; I do not do well without set tasks in front of me, and that is not the case at present. And, again, the money will be appreciated.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that I did not watch the game last night. A snippet of verse aside, I had no real engagement with it. I do not have television service, for one thing, and I do not frequent bars--I might go to one once in a month. Might. And I have never been "into" football--or any sport, really. It is part of being the great indoorsman that I am that I do not register such things as important, and I suppose it is part of why I do not do well out in public. Being an academic is not the problem, of course; many of my colleagues watched the game and are passionate about various sports fandoms. I want to think their careers are in better shape than mine, as well, and I have to wonder about causality. It is not the sport itself that does it, I know, but what the sport represents: immersion in the standards of popular cultural discourse. Community building. And because I do not really watch sports, because I cannot talk about them with any kind of authority, I am marked as being outside the community that values them--and many of the people I care about are inside it. Many of the people I might find useful are, as well, but I am closed off from them just a little bit more because I do not watch. And I might talk about correcting that problem, but I know I will not. I cannot take the time or expend the effort to do so. Work continues, after all.

More and more, I recognize myself as isolated. Part of me is bothered by this, although it ought not to be; I have spent enough of my life hiding away from things that I ought to be used to it by now. And part of me is not, both because of the aforementioned familiarity and because I recognize that it is likely for the best that I am as I am. It might help my family to have me go out and "live life" or "have fun," but it might well not; there is no guarantee that I would make a useful connection out in the world, and there is a damned good chance that I would spend money I cannot afford to or do something I ought not to do. I am and always have been risk-averse; I cannot move ahead with such odds in place. And, again, work continues; it is, at least, a relatively certain thing.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Hooray, hooray, the game's today
And we will watch the grown men play
And stop and rest, and some will say
It's good, and we'll go on our way
Until, again, the game's today.

Hooray, hooray, let's watch the game
Where every play will seem the same
As other plays that some can name
And yet will become claims to fame
But we should cheer; the game's today.

Hooray, hooray, let's party, now,
With food and drink as we know how,
But not reward workers enow,
However they to us kowtow
Because, of course, the game's today.

Hooray, hooray, tomorrow's work
We can in our hangovers shirk
Because the boss, although a jerk,
Will, drunken, take a sick-day perk
And so, hooray, the game's today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Work continues, even when I sleep in far later than I ought to do. For example, student papers came in yesterday, so I will be grading over the next few days. I am not going to be in a rush to do so, partly because the work of grading is onerous, and partly because there is less urgency at this point than at others. The last set I needed to grade were review versions, something I ask students to do so that their final versions--worth large portions of their total course grades--are better. (Somehow, I still get student complaints about my methods, even though they note few other professors who allow them the chance to get feedback and correction ahead of time.) Because another assignment followed from those papers, I had to turn them around quickly. Another does not follow from the work the students just turns in, so I do not need to rush through things as much. I have a two-week deadline, and there is other grading yet to come, so I am not going to delay overmuch, but I need not rush through things this time as I did last. And that is good.

Less good is that the write-up gigs seem to be on hiatus at the moment. It has happened once or twice before that there have been lacunae in my ability to make money writing about novels to order for other people, so I am not terribly worried about things, but I do miss having the money coming in. Some of that appears to be offset, however, by a new series of tutorials I appear to be about to give; the first of them will take place on Tuesday. And having time away from the write-ups means I have time to put toward other ends, not only the grading that I have to do as part of my regular work, but also my research projects. I have been letting those I know I have slide a bit more than ought to be the case against the other work that I need to do at any given time, but I have less work to do with the freelancing at the moment, so I should be able to put some time to them. I do not want to be in the position of having to rush through things. It is never good.

For this weekend, then, I have my tasks assigned. There is some work I need to do for the classroom, and there is some work I need to do for my ability to exist outside the classroom. It seems almost as if there is enough time to attend decently to both--provided, of course, that I can wake up in a timely fashion and use well the time I have while I am awake. Unfortunately, I do not seem to be off to a good start in that regard; I cannot let things get too easy, after all. That wouldn't be appropriate.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Matters proceed as expected.
Situation normal.
Nothing to see here.
Move along.

The only sounds
Are snoring
And the high oscillating whine
Of electrical and electronic equipment
Even the keystrokes are
Strangely muted

Nothing is going wrong
So things must be going right

Is that not the way it works
That things are right
When they are not wrong?

Thursday, February 4, 2016


There is a strange coincidence of numbers today. One way of writing the date is 2/4/16, and 24 is 16. It is a small thing, hardly to be noted, but I find myself attracted to such details, and I have to wonder if there might be some way to use them as ways to structure larger narratives.

It has been before, to be certain; a couple of pieces on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (here and here, among the many others treating the topic) come to mind as examples for me. They would, though, with me being a medievalist looking largely at Arthurian works.

I have been giving thought to such things recently. In my personal journals--with which I am finally doing a decent job of keeping up lately--I have noticed several cyclical patterns. Because I use my journals as writing exercises as much as as places to record events and my reflections thereupon, I have a regular entry length. As I proceed through entries, paragraphs begin at recurring places on the page. A new paragraph begins on the new page on what seems a +19/+19/+1 pattern--the +1 coming from the spacing between entries. The coincidence of days proceeds similarly: +6/+6/+1. Simplifying the patterns given +19/+20 and +6/+7, which seem to be useful as regular patterns for celestial motions of one sort or another, perhaps of moons on some fantasy world. (The thought occurs that I could count the numbers of paragraphs between coincidences, offering yet another cycle to follow. And I am put in mind of an older NPR piece, here. Such is how I work. It is a wonder I can get anything done at all.)

Whether or not I will put such devices to use in any meaningful way, I am unsure. Like many academics, I entertain the fantasy of myself as a writer--and I do not mean the kind of writer that academics must be, publishing accounts of their work in venues few will read, and I do not mean the kind of writer that I already am, reading novels and drafting distillations of them into a few thousand words so that others can understand events without reading the books and I can get a few extra dollars that I certainly do not mind. I mean the kind of writer whose works are read and may be studied but are more commonly enjoyed. It is, for the most part, a fantasy at present, and while I long to make it a reality in the future, I do not see a way through for me to do it--partly because I tend to get lost in small details such as the numbers today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


We want
To offer you
A lucrative
Don't miss out on the chance
To make lots of money
From the comfort of your home
In three
All you need to do
Is watch a video
Do what it says
And we do the rest

Of course
We need your account numbers
And there will be
A small sign-up fee
We have to take care of our costs
But you have to spend money
To make money

You are surprised
We took your money
We said it was a chance
And chances
Do not play out in your favor

We said it was a chance
To make money
Did we say it was for you?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Today is Groundhog Day, but I find I have little invested in the quaint old observance. It is also the day after the Iowa caucuses, and I find I am little invested in the results. I know what my primary election vote will be, and I know what my order of precedence is for later voting. So that much is decided; unless something drastic happens, I am more or less set in my opinions, and if something drastic enough to change them does happen, news of it will get to me soon enough. My own concerns are much more local than that, much more mundane. And, in truth, they are things I can do something about; I will vote, of course, but I do not expect that my vote will matter much, if it matter at all.

Instead, I focus on things about which I can do something. Among them is the work that I need to do today. I had wanted to get a write-up cranked out yesterday, but that did not happen; I found myself strangely fatigued when my "regular" workday ended, so I took the rest of the day off. I am not entirely pleased to have done so; I feel some regret at not pushing ahead and getting the job done. But I am also aware that I was not in a good position to do the work; I would not have gotten much done well, and I need to do the work well if I am going to do it. Consequently, I have it to do today, and I am confident in getting it done. I have almost always been able to do so before, and I do not feel so badly at this point as would drive me to abandon the job.

Since the Mrs. works today, I will be attending to Ms. 8--as is usually the case on Tuesdays. She continues to grow physically and mentally, talking more and more distinctly, and playing more complex games. (We are already working up to tea parties--although I think she will probably go in more for coffee parties than tea, given the house she lives in. I somehow do not mind.) It will be a pleasure to see her finally reach a point where we can play board games and card games together; I enjoy such things, and she gives every indication of enjoying my company, so it would be a good thing to have happen. There is much I want to share with her, and that she is beginning to be able to receive it from me is decidedly welcome.

And, in a final note, conference activities for my year are gearing up. Although the call for papers I announce here is formally closed, I still have some room in the session it described; if you or someone you know works with how medieval materials are brought forward, I'd be happy to hear about it. Also, the International Congress on Medieval Studies has opened registration, it being February and all; I need to get my registration together, since I am tasked with presenting a paper and presiding over two sessions. I probably ought to see about getting the business meeting arranged for the Tales after Tolkien Society, as well. There will be some things to discuss...

Monday, February 1, 2016


The quadrennial Leap Month begins today, as does Black History Month. There are, in fact, several observances in it to which I must or should or want to attend. Valentine's is one; I am married, and I am in a relationship in the United States, so I feel no small amount of pressure to perform in a couple of weeks. I have an idea of what I will do, but I have not moved on it--certainly not enough to make any difference. The Mrs. and I are not likely to go out, given several other factors, but I will still do something for her to mark the day. And, no, it will not be something from which I derive direct benefit; I know what she wants because I have taken the radical step of asking her, and I will do all that I can to deliver.

Ms. 8 has her birthday this month, as well. I will doubtlessly be offering more on that story--again--as the date approaches. Her birth was kind of a big deal for all of us, after all, and even if I do not think she will make much of the day itself--I am not at all certain about her perception of passing time--it is worth the commemoration. The Mrs. has something of a party planned, and while I may not be the most comfortable with that particular arrangement, I know that it is not meant to please me. Ms. 8 will doubtlessly enjoy it greatly, which is the point of the thing; my curmudgeonly ass will endure much to see my daughter happy. That is as it ought to be, I think; I am certainly not doing it for my own enjoyment.

My late grandmother was born in February, too. It accounts for some of her regard for Ms. 8. ("Some" for reasons I will not go into here, but I ask you to trust that it is accurate.) What the family will do to remember her is not clear to me; if there are plans, I have not been included in them--which makes sense. I am not able to return to the Texas Hill Country at this time, and that is, fittingly, where any such thing would take place. I will be working, as well, and while I may do something small in my private hours, I doubt that she would have wanted any big fuss made about it. She would have said as much, certainly, or at least I recall her in such a way.

Amid it all, work continues. I got a fair bit done over the weekend leading into the beginning of the month, but I still have some to do. A write-up is perhaps a quarter done; I look to complete it today or, if I must, tomorrow; I hope for other work. Another project may have additional materials coming up for me; I am not certain about it, but I am again hopeful, as having the additional income will be welcome. The regular work of the classroom and in support of it will need doing, as well, and more papers are coming in from my students. I teach writing classes, after all, in addition to doing no small bit of it, myself. I remain busy, therefore, which helps; I will be able to do something to celebrate what needs to be celebrated this month.