Welcome, Again, to Elliott RWI!

In my first post to this webspace, I noted a desire for this website to do a number of things: host research projects, connect to writing samples, offer course materials, and maintain a professional portfolio. It is doing that, but I thought I might make it a bit easier to navigate. (There is a navigation menu at the top of the page, but not everyone seems to find it amenable to use.) So, if you are looking for

  • Most recent posts, scroll down
  • Background information on the website, click here
  • Research projects, click here
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    • The Pronghorn Project, click here
    • Points of Departure, click here
    • A Robin Hobb Reread, click here
  • Instructional materials, click here
    • Previous institutions’ materials, click here
      • DeVry University materials, click here
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      • Northern Oklahoma College, click here
      • Oklahoma State University, click here
    • Sample courses, click here
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  • Biographical/CV/Resume information, click here

I am sure some updates will occur as matters progress. What appears above should make things easier to handle in the meantime, however.

Elliott RWI Logo 1

Updated 9 December 2019.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 140: Mad Ship, Chapter 2

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

The next chapter, “The Pirate’s Leg,” begins with Wintrow conversing with the Vivacia about the need to amputate Kennit’s leg again, as well as his apprehensions about the same. Their discussion is uneasy; Wintrow knows he faces the possibility of his death and his father’s, and the ship faces uncertainty in the lack of her blood kin.

A Civil War Surgeon's Tools | National Archives
These are likely nicer than what Wintrow discusses.
Image taken from the US National Archives, here, and used for commentary

Wintrow muses on his situation further. The tumult that the ship still feels hinders his ability to center himself. The micro-political tensions between Kennit and his crew and Sa’Adar and the freed slaves grates upon him. The deaths of the Vivacia‘s former crew weigh upon him. The burden of caring for his father tells upon him. Thinking through it leads him to places that are strange to him.

The Vivacia herself considers her situation, as well. Owing to her nature, she is preternatually aware of the goings-on aboard her. She makes contact with Kennit’s wizardwood charm, the experience confusing and frightening her.

Kennit struggles to consciousness through fever and sends Etta to fetch Wintrow. In her absence, the charm torments him; it leaves off when she returns with Wintrow. Nervously, the would-be priest examines Kennit’s leg, searching out how much more of the limb will have to be removed to save the rest of the pirate’s body. Wintrow arrives, with some trepidation, at a plan of treatment, to which Kennit agrees.

The chapter serves largely as exposition, laying out current states of affairs and reminding readers who might be new to the series with the present novel or who might have been away from the reading for a while of how things stand aboard the Vivacia. It also appears to foreshadow conflict between Sa’Adar and Kennit, setting up a confrontation to follow the promised amputation.

About that: Hobb is on record as favoring verisimilitude in her writing, remarking that “I think the best way to convince a reader that I know what I’m talking about when I recount the habits of dragons is to know what I’m talking about when I recount the details of raising chickens or putting a roof on a house.” As such, the eliding of many details about the surgery comes off as a way to cover gaps in her knowledge–gaps which are not themselves problematic, of course, as someone not a physician need not be expected to know how to take a leg off with some measure of safety. And it is handled well, covered by Kennit’s musings; I know that I have wandered into my own thoughts even at times when vitally important information is being relayed, so I can easily imagine characters who have already been humanized and shown to be flawed doing so, as well.

It’s almost Halloween; help me treat my daughter?

A Client Story

I have not made a secret of working in a substance abuse treatment facility, although I have generally not gone into detail about the work I do there. For one reason, most of that work is the mundane administrivia that keeps an organization–particularly a nonprofit organization that has contracts with state governments–going from day to day and week to week. Detailing my experiences with QuickBooks or billing insurance companies would not likely make for engaging reading, and, as should be clear, my writing already struggles to develop and maintain readerly interest.

My facility, as shown on the agency website,
www.hccada.org; your donation is welcome.

Another reason, and more important in the event, is that the work done at my agency is quite sensitive and personal. Although my organization offers only outpatient treatment, it still sees people at close to their worst. It’s usually only close to the worst, though every so often, one comes in who’s not close, but at their worst. It’s never a good thing to see happen, and it’s not something for which I am trained; all of my degrees are in English, after all, and if it has been the case that a lot of people have confided in me, I am (emphatically and explicitly) not a counselor.

Thus, when I got called in to observe a client who had said some things on which we had to act, I was…unprepared. While the counselor did what needed doing–I am deliberately being vague, thank you–I kept watch on the client. So I got to see the many open sores and several healed-over ones on the client’s exposed skin, the cracked flesh at the side of the client’s mouth, the twitching and picking at nailbeds and eyebrows, the irregular outbursts of weeping that may have been genuine but which ceased so suddenly as to appear performances abruptly cancelled. And, because I am not a counselor and do not want to be in a position of having said something I ought not to have said, I kept my silence throughout, even as the client tried to work up into a rage and pleaded to speak with their mother. I do not think it helped the client feel better, though.

In the event, the client received the needed assistance and has been discharged from our program; we recommended they go to an inpatient facility that handles what we do and the other factors with which the client must contend. Whether or not the client does so is not up to us; although we work with government agencies, we are not ourselves such an agency, and we have neither power nor desire to compel behavior. I am glad that the client was offered the needed help; I am also glad, more now than in the moment, of the reminder of what my organization does. I am often isolated from the actual work as I do my portion of the support work; the display of the problem we seek to treat is something I need to see, at least every now and again.

Help support my endeavors?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

There is discussion of suicide in what follows.

The first chapter, “The Mad Ship,” begins with the titular ship, the Paragon, sitting sullenly on the beach where he has been left over the past decades, trying to stonewall Amber as she cooks and tries to converse with him. She pleads with him for help, relating her endeavors to save him and the stern response she got from his owner, Amis Ludluck. Amber also notes that the Ludlucks appear to be ready to have the ship towed away and dismantled.

Mad Ship, the - PlentyWiki
The cover of the edition I’m reading
Image taken from ThePlenty.net,
used for commentary

The Paragon‘s resolve breaks at the comments, and he finds himself asking Amber if she will visit him when he is taken away. He then asks her to help him die in flame rather than face a dismemberment that may well leave him alive, voicing suicidal ideation that shocks Amber. She asks him what the likely plan to take him would be, and he answers. Both of them pine for friends not present, and the ship seems to prepare for an imminent end.

The Ludluck name is repeated in the chapter–it has occurred before, but it seems to be something of a focus in the present selection. Knowing that Hobb has a penchant for emblematic names in the Liveship Traders novels (as witness here, here, and here, among others that can be found), it seems fit to look for something in a repeated name. The “luck” part of “Ludluck” is clear enough; the “lud” part, however, bears a bit of inquiry. Collins reports it as being either an informal rendering of “lord” in judicial proceedings or, previously, “an exclamation of dismay or surprise.” Taken together, the components render the family name as “bad fortune” or “unexpected fortune.”

The former seems to be the more pertinent in the present chapter. There is much about which to feel dismay for Amber and for the Paragon, knowing that an unpleasant end may well be coming at the hands of those who should protect the ship, and considering whether being hacked apart or burned away is better is hardly the happiest discussion.

That discussion does point towards something worth considering, both in the present work and in the genre more generally: logical conclusions. The differences between the narrative milieu and the readerly have their immediate, observed effects, to be certain–but there would necessarily be other effects that are not necessarily evident. How magic might shape social structures differently than they appear in the “real” world is one example of them. Another, touched on by the discussion between woodcarver and ship, is the different effects of violence on different types of thinking things. The preceding novel makes clear that a liveship absorbs the emotions and thoughts of its surroundings (something treated also in Fitz, here and here), and the present discussion suggests that there are yet darker things involved in the lives of the liveships.

It is something to watch for as the novels continue.

Your patronage continues to be appreciated!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 138: Mad Ship, Prologue

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The prologue of the novel, “A Recollection of Wings,” opens not long after the end of Ship of Magic. Several serpents–Maulkin, Shreever, Sessurea, and others–linger near “the silvery provider.” Shreever considers their situation; Maulkin muses aloud over his uncertainty. A fight over food ensues, and Mauklin realizes that the other serpents have forgotten themselves and their intelligence, despairing that they will succeed in their quest. He, Shreever, and Sessurea share memories of a different life, and they recommit to moving forward as more food presents itself.

Looks about right.
Maulkin’s Tangle by Sandara on ThePlenty.net, used for commentary.

Brief as the prologue is–only some six pages in the edition I’m using to do the reread–it serves two useful purposes. For one, it re-grounds readers in the narrative milieu, serving as a powerful reminder that there is a non-human intelligence very much at work in the story. For another, proceeding as swiftly from and in the same kind as the end of Ship of Magic as it does, it reinforces the continuity between the two novels. While marketing alone makes clear that Mad Ship is the direct sequel to Ship of Magic, and while trilogy setups tend to promote the notion that stories continue through them, having so smooth a transition between novels is rare and serves almost to make the two books one in multiple volumes rather than separate works.

As the novel gets more fully underway, moving into chapters from the prefatory material, I expect I will have more to say. For now, though I am once again delighted to be pressing ahead with this project, and I hope you, dear reader, will continue along with me.

I’d love to have your help to help me keep this going!

Another Student Story

A while back, I wrote about a former student I’ve decided to call Chuck. While he was something of a problem, largely for getting me involved with institutional bureaucracy, he was neither the only one such nor the first. Nor, in the event, was he the most problematic of them in that regard.

First Day Of College Read The Syllabus GIF - FirstDayOfCollege  ReadTheSyllabus Shock - Discover & Share GIFs
Useful advice that too few follow.
Image taken from Tenor.com, used for commentary.

No, that one for me was back at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I earned both of my graduate degrees and where I did my first few years of college teaching. In many ways, it was a good experience, although I readily admit I did not make the best possible use of my time there–but the fault for that is mine and not the institution’s.

While I was there, and maybe in my second year of teaching there, I had a slate of first-year composition classes, as is typical of graduate students in English. As is also typical, I had some conference activities scheduled, and, in an attempt to be responsible and forthright about them, I had noted on the course syllabus when I would be away to take care of them. And as is not uncommon, I also had a note on the course calendar about the mandated attendance policy–namely, that students could miss a set number of classes without penalty, but after that, grade penalties would accrue up to and including failing the course.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

As happened most sessions that I taught a class with a mandated attendance policy, some students suffered grade penalties due to missing too many classes. (In my defense, 1) the policies were mandated, and 2) I offered students the chance to “test out” of the class; if they could submit A papers without coming, I’d agree that they didn’t need to be in the room, and I’d excuse all their absences. None made the attempt.) As happened many such sessions, a few students failed on absences alone. And as happened more often than I care to recall, there were complaints about the grading.

The one that stands out, though, was a student I might well call Kofaire. She’d been a student in a second-semester composition class I taught in the spring, and she’d failed the class because she’d racked up something like thirteen absences in a class that met some forty-five times. (It’s been a few years, so my counts may be a bit off.) When she came to my office hours in the summer–because I tried to teach summers, needing the extra money–I looked over the records I had, quoted the mandated policy to her, and sent her on her way; I’d thought that would be the end of it.

Wrongly, in the event, because Kofaire went from me to my department head and made the same complaint. Of course, she got the same answer after the department head pulled her copy of my syllabus and the gradebook I’d turned in (because all of us were asked to do that). It should have ended there, and I think, on Kofaire’s part, it would have–but it stopped being up to Kofaire at that point, because Maman Kofaire got involved, then.

Karen | Know Your Meme
I don’t remember if her name was Karen…
Image from Know Your Meme, used for commentary.

I first learned of Maman’s involvement when I came into my office, checked my voicemail, and found not one, not two, but seven messages from her, asking (in various terms of politeness) that I call her back and talk about Kofaire’s grade. Now, FERPA being FERPA, and me still not having begun to mellow out in my old age, I did what I thought I ought to do: delete the messages. But they didn’t stop; when I came back to the office after teaching, I found three more messages waiting for me. And this went on for a couple of weeks, with every day seeing message after message after message asking and demanding that I talk with Maman about Kofaire’s grade.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t the only one getting to handle Maman. She’d gone in to talk to my department chair, bringing Kofaire with her and (inadvertently?) stepping around FERPA thereby. (The student, being present, could agree to have the conversation with others.) Kofaire had evidently been of the opinion that, if a day in the class had no explicit assignment made, there was no class that day–despite the explicit notes about when class wouldn’t meet. Maman seemed to think the same, complaining about spending her “hard-earned money for [Kofaire] to have a class with some damned worthless grad student” and vowing that it would never happen again.

My department chair sent her out of the office. I am told that the college dean did the same. As did the Dean of Students. And the Provost. Rumor reached me that Maman even tried to go to the University President, only to be asked something like “Why are you bothering me with this?” But it was more than rumor that let me know Maman hadn’t dropped the matter.

No, it was when Maman found out what classroom I was teaching in and ambushed me outside it, jawing at me for thirty minutes about how it wasn’t fair that Kofaire had fared poorly, and that she didn’t understand how some upjumped student could sit in judgment over her darling little girl. I count it to my credit that I kept my mouth shut except to say that “I can’t discuss students, ma’am” and to excuse myself as quickly as I could–to my department head’s office, where I reported the incident. I believe there was even paperwork.

I found out later from one of the campus police (I was in judo classes with him) that my report and the observed harassment from Maman Kofaire resulted in her being barred from campus. Kofaire herself, I believe, took second-semester composition again and had perfect attendance, scraping by with a low passing grade. And I have something of a story to tell, one I know others have, as well; maybe there’s some study that can be done about such narratives by someone who’s still able to be in academe…

I’m not writing syllabi anymore, but I am still writing, and I could still use your support!

A Rumination on Today’s Observances

Like many others, I grew up marking today as a holiday celebrating the arrival of a particular person to the shores of a Caribbean island in 1492, labeling it the “discovery of the Americas.” As was the case for many–and still is, given what I see going on in my daughter’s own schooling–I was given no cause to question the assertion, and I do not think that any such questions would have been welcome. (My questions to teachers during my elementary school years generally weren’t. Admittedly, I was a little shit. Still…) I never really thought about it, except to enjoy the day off from school I got.

Columbus Day and Its Discontents | Britannica
Yeah, this did not go quite as depicted.
Image from Britannica.com, here, used for commentary.

It was only later that I began to realize the error in the assertion–even within the school’s materials. For they had all noted that the jackass in question had encountered people upon landing, and it occurred to me that you can’t discover a damned thing when there’re already people there. I learned about Leifr Eiriksson, too, and in class, giving the lie to the earlier-learned narratives. And, as I continued in school through into college and graduate school, I learned yet more, enough to know I do not and cannot know the whole truth of things–and had damned well not been taught it early on.

Now, I know that kids in elementary school are not equipped to handle as much as grown adults. I know that individual teachers are constrained by curricular demands that are written in statehouses by legislators with vested interests in particular positions (you know, politics) and who do not seldom benefit from speaking with testing and publishing companies that like to have control over materials so they can make more money from them. I know that no report of atrocity can adequately convey the horror of it, even as too many students experience too much atrocity in their own lives.

But I also know that, yes, the decision to teach particular views of history that aggrandize people who record in their own journals that they are doing things not excused even by the mores of the time, let alone more modern sensibilities, is a choice, and it is one that serves to glorify some unduly, as well as to set aside others without cause or justification. And I am not calling for the events in 1492 not to be taught. No, I would hope that they would be taught in greater detail, not eliding the evil that was done–and done knowingly. I know they will not be, of course, as making such changes–even though they are more in line with contemporary attestations and physical evidence that remains even now (you know, the facts that are purportedly so highly prized)–would cause questions to be asked such as I might have asked and which are therefore unwelcome.

We can’t have people questioning the chain of greatness, after all, especially at times when it has to be insisted upon if it’s going to work.

Help me keep spreading good words?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 137: Ship of Magic, Chapter 36

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The brief final chapter of the novel, “She Who Remembers,” opens with the serpent Maulkin expressing confusion at the seeming-but-not-actual serpent he had scented and followed. Conferring with other serpents, he notes their previous cyclical existence and their slow degradation. They determine to find and follow the titular She Who Remembers before they become nothing more than beasts, themselves.

Searching for the One, Who Remembers
Something like this seems to fit…
Searching for the One, Who Remembers, by DraconianArtLine on DeviantArt,
used for commentary

The chapter functions as something of an epilogue, pointing forward more emphatically than the previous chapter (which makes clear that how Kennit works on Wintrow and the Vivacia will be a focus) by giving an explicit indication of what is to come. Too, it serves as a reminder that the world in which Hobb writes is not only a human one; there are other forces, other thinking creatures at work in it. (Some will contend that the same is true in the world Hobb inhabits, but that discussion is outside the scope of what I can even pretend to be qualified or competent to address.)

Ship of Magic is one of the few Elderlings novels I do not have in hardcover. The next volume in the series, Mad Ship, is not one, although I will be reading from my paperback copy to continue this reread; it travels easier than the hardback I was fortunate to be able to find. And I might discuss the differences, for me, in reading each. Maybe. Another time.

Care to help with celebrating Leifr Eiriksonns Dagr and Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Another Nature Piece

As I’ve remarked once or twice before, I live outside of town in the Texas Hill Country, and not terribly far from a creek, so I often get critters of one kind or another in the yard or in the house. I suppose I ought to mention also that, while my yard is fenced all around, the fencing is of uneven quality. Some of it is simple chain-link–with gaps at the base. Some is tall privacy fence–with gaps at the base. Some, in the back corner, is frayed and faltering wire–with gaps at the base and elsewhere.

White-tailed Deer — Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Not quite this majestic, but moving that way.
Image is Chase A. Fountain’s from TPWD, here, used for commentary;
I am given to understand the image counts as public domain since it’s from a government entity.

Now, it is no strange thing for me to see deer in my yard–or anywhere in the area, really. They abound in this part of the world, some years more than others, but there is a reason my old high school and a few others in the area use them–or parts of them–as mascots. So when I saw a young one, spots still showing on its hndquarters, out along the fence-line a couple of days back (as of this writing; it’ll be a while before this gets where other folks can see it), I didn’t think anything much of it. It was one of those things that was nice to note but nothing to stand out in memory, like a sunrise or sunset that strikes the eye but does not linger in the mind so much.

When I noticed the same deer along the fence-line the next day, though, I began to wonder about it. And when I saw it for a third day in a row, it occurred to me–idly, because I had not had enough coffee for the day yet–that the poor thing was stuck in the yard, that it didn’t know how to get out.

Again, though, deer are common enough around here, and it is widely known that they’re unintelligent. There’s a reason “deer in the headlights” is a common description for inability to answer a question. As such, I didn’t really think much about the deer’s plight–until one morning, I was looking out the window with a cup of coffee in my hand, I saw the deer and pointed it out to my wife, commenting that I’d seen it in the yard across several days. She came to the window, and we watched it for a few minutes, seeing it pace back and forth along the fence-line and try to get through one of the gaps at the back corner of the yard–and fail.

It was when my wife commented on it that something finally clicked inside me, and I went out to open the gates that close off our back yard. I walked around one side of the house, making noise as I did so that the deer would be aware of me and, I hoped, would try to flee, finding the open gate in the process. And that worked, although I saw the deer jump headlong into my fences twice before it sprinted through the gate and out into the road, its hooves clicking on the asphalt as it ran away.

Care to support my ongoing wildlife efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 136: Ship of Magic, Chapter 35

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

The chapter that follows, “Pirates and Captives,” opens on the deck of the Vivacia, where Kyle rages against Sa’Adar as the Marietta draws near to the liveship. The Vivacia panics as the bodies of her former crew are put overboard and the serpents feast upon them; Wintrow maneuvers to comfort the ship as the pirate crew boards and is welcomed by Sa’Adar and his comrades.

Something like this, perhaps?
Image taken from TV Tropes, used for commentary

Wintrow’s presence is noted, and he dickers for his life and his father’s with Kennit, aided by the angry intercession of the Vivacia, herself. Neither Sorcor nor Etta are entirely pleased by the situation, but Kennit seems pleased with the spine Wintrow shows and agrees to decidedly dangerous terms. Kyle is taken into custody again, and Kennit assumes the captain’s cabin as his own after presenting himself to the speaking figurehead of the ship.

Kennit courts the Vivacia audaciously, provoking strange responses from the ship, from Wintrow, and from Etta. He then assumes the captain’s cabin, surveying and inventorying it as Etta frets and fusses. Meanwhile, Kyle lies sullenly in what had been Gantry’s cabin, Wintrow tending his injuries. And the ship considers the sudden shift in her circumstances, taken but now crewed well again, remembering the sweet words Kennit had spoken to her.

The chapters have shortened as the book has drawn to its close, feeling somewhat rushed as they have come to the penultimate section of the novel. Where there has been a series of actions, the shortening makes sense; it reinforces the jagged, choppy nature of many things happening all at once, the layout of the novel reinforcing the effect of the events within the narrative on the reader.

In the present chapter, however, things feel somewhat rushed; for one thing, Wintrow seems to have grown courage and solidity almost overnight, whereas he had earlier been most frequently taken with analysis paralysis or had talked himself out of effectiveness in the name of righteousness. Having lived through puberty (somehow), I can attest that attitudes and emotional states can and do change wildly from day to day and even hour to hour–but even so, the shift seems extreme.

The rush is something I have noted in Hobb’s work before, and it is something I have found annoying in other properties, as well. I will admit, though, that that may well be a matter of personal taste and practice; when I read for pleasure (which does not happen as much anymore as it used to or ought to), despite reading quickly, I like to feel like the writing takes its time. Reading is a conversation, and I like to have my conversations run on at length. It’s something I know annoys more than a few people, though, so, as I note, it may well just be me. But it remains ever so slightly vexatious…

Care to help keep this month going right?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 135: Ship of Magic, Chapter 34

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, Restorations,” begins aboard the liveship Ophelia, with Grag Tenira rousing Althea, still in disguise as Athel, with a summons from the captain, his father. She fears she has been uncovered, but she reports as ordered. The captain confronts her about her true identity, and, after she admits to her ruse, he orders her put ashore–so that he and his crew can take her aboard formally and properly, under her own name. She will also have the opportunity to act as the ship’s mate, as Grag will feign illness to allow it to her.

The Drunken Sailor
What to do with him? What to do…
The Drunken Sailor by BeSea on Pxleyes, used for commentary

As the principals involved agree and make arrangements, the senior Tenira notes the increasing political tensions in Bingtown. Grag sees her off, and they make arrangements to meet the next day, both recalling earlier, happy encounters previously.

Elsewhere, aboard the Springeve, Brashen has an encounter with one of the sailors under his command. The sailor, one Tarlock, voices recognizing Brashen from earlier voyages. Brashen reviews his situation and present condition, including some unsavory dealings with pirates in trade, and attempts to steer conversation away from his own past. Succeeding, he leaves the passed-out Tarlock behind and returns to the Springeve with cindin in his lip and a spring in his step, happy to have evaded identification.

I note with some satisfaction another bit of support for my notion that the milieu of the Elderlings novels is more North America than medieval/ist Europe. In the present chapter, Brashen and Tarlock drink together for a time, with Brashen calling for rum in his attempt to get Tarlock drunk enough to pass out. While that liquor has origins in southern Asia–there are early attestations in India and Persia–it is indelibly associated with the Caribbean and with the Americas through the horrors of the slave trade (with which topic the present novel also grapples), as well as with the pirates that continue to feature in the text and which, themselves, are a traditionally New World phenomenon.

I note also the ease with which the Teniras handle the revelation of Althea’s ruse. Perhaps it is because they are Traders with a liveship of their own, to whom (which?) they listen, that they are able to adjust so readily to the deception, annoyed only at being taken in instead of at the presence of a woman working aboard ship. Whatever the reason, in or out of the milieu, they do mark a pointed contrast to how others have viewed things, perhaps indicating that there is something of value in Bingtown society, after all.

Care to help me start this month off right?