Why Am I Still Doing This?

I met my wife while we were both in graduate school. The two of us had cubicles across from one another in the bullpen office we shared with several others, the Deuce-38 that might be of story and song had I paid more attention to the world around me and were I a better writer than I am. We got to know one another as we worked together, first on translating early English into modern, later on other projects, not all of which were academic in nature. But our first association was as scholars, laboring together to master knowledge so that we could make more of it, and that foundation still shows in our relationship and conversations.

Griffin Hall stands, deserted for the weekend, facing the Girard Park Tower on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019.
This is where it happened, of course.
The image is Abbigail Wilson’s in
The Vermillion,
and it is used here for commentary.

I point all this out to offer context for what follows, of course. My wife and I are both trained as scholars, although both of us have left off academia as a profession; she opted out of continued study soon after we learned of our daughter, while I gave up the search for full-time academic work a while back and left teaching at the beginning of the year this year. Even so, I continue to write, putting out chapter-by-chapter summaries of one author’s corpus and putting together such essays and other pieces as this. Indeed, I’ve been doing more writing, and more public writing, since leaving academe than I did while I was making a go of an academic career. (And, yes, I am aware that writing syllabi and assignments, and making comments on students’ papers for grading all “count” as writing. I think more of what I write now gets read, though, although how much of that was my attitude towards students and how much was the students’ attitude toward the work is not entirely clear to me.)

Not long before this writing, although some time before it will appear where others can see it, my wife asked me why I need to keep writing. I was penning pages in my journal when she asked, and I had said something about needing to write when she had asked what I wanted to do with her and our daughter on a sunny afternoon. And I didn’t have a good answer for her. I mean, I could have quoted Asimov, talking about writing as breathing, but she and I both know it’s not quite that important for me; I’ve spent many days not writing, although I admit to feeling some compulsion to keep putting words together. And it’s not as if I was writing for pay, which would have justified the time away to some extent.

The question has stuck with me, as might be imagined. I still do not have a good answer for it. Yes, I continue to entertain the fantasies that what I write will be of some use to others and that I will, at some point, be able to bring in a bit of money for my family from doing it. But they are largely–not entirely, but largely–fantasies. A more concrete answer, well, that slab hasn’t yet been poured.

Help me make it into and through the coming month?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 134: Ship of Magic, Chapter 33

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


A chapter titled “Day of Reckoning” follows. It opens with Wintrow engaging in more philosophical musing as he and Sa’Adar continue the work of unchaining the slaves aboard the Vivacia and the slaves rise in revolt at their captors. Wintrow struggles to reach out to the ship and only becomes aware of her in her fear at being out of control with nobody at the helm. He takes the wheel and strives to right the ship against the storm, pleading with the warring slaves and crew as he does.

a Ship In a Storm
Not ideal sailing conditions, no.
Ship in a Storm by ShockHit on DeviantArt, used for commentary

They begin to make progress when Torg arrives, having brokered a deal with the other slaves. He upbraids Wintrow and, when Wintrow says he is not trustworthy, Torg finds himself pitched overboard, to Wintrow’s shock. The captain is brought up next, and Wintrow asks for his aid; there is some argument, but Haven gives in.

In Bingtown, Malta rails against the arrangement that has been made regarding Reyn’s courtship. Ronica pointedly puts down her objections, noting, among others, that she had invited the attentions upon herself.

Aboard the Vivacia, Haven asks if he will be allowed to live. The Marietta begins to close in on the liveship. Kennit has his ship drawn up alongside the Vivacia and makes ready to board her, if with some difficulty; Sorcor and Etta seem to recognize that he is failing, and Sorcor prevails upon Etta to let his captain take the liveship himself.

The implication of the previous chapter is borne out as Kennit’s ship draws up alongside the Vivacia, and, given circumstances, it appears certain that Kennit will take the liveship for himself. Sa’Adar recognized the flag the Marietta flies, after all, and the reputation he must surely have among slaves and slavers speaks for itself. And that is aside from the arrangement Kennit and Sorcor have regarding liveships and slaveships.

Thinking on it now, as I reread the chapter again, I am struck by the recognition of a theme that comes up in the Liveship Traders novels. Full explication of that theme depends on later events in the series, so I will not treat it now; I am not worried about spoilers for novels twenty years old, but I prefer to establish materials before working with them. I will note, though, that the seeming duality of liveships and slaveships–the latter being floating charnel houses or abbatoirs–is not quite as dual as might be thought. But that much is likely obvious even without a rereading…

The end of the month is coming; help me make it into the next one?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 133: Ship of Magic, Chapter 32

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


The chapter that follows, “Storm,” starts with Wintrow tending to those chained in the holds of the Vivacia as heavy weather approaches. His ministrations are not always appreciated, and Wintrow muses on the changes in his situation before talk of his old monastery attracts his attention. The talk leads him to one who claims to be a priest of Sa; the putative priest implores Wintrow for some metal implement to use against the chains that bind those in the hold. Wintrow agrees to do what he can for those enslaved alongside him.

Ship Water GIF - Ship Water Sea GIFs
Might be something like this.
Image from
Tenor.com, used for commentary

Above deck, Gantry and the Vivacia confer. The ship reports being able to understand one of the trailing serpents in some strange way; Gantry is confused, and he does not heed the sense of apprehension the ship feels. He also balks at Wintrow’s request to have one of they dying enslaved brought out onto the deck to die, though Wintrow is, with the ship’s help, able to persuade him to take a look at conditions below deck. When he does so, the putative priest, Sa’Adar, takes the opportunity to disable Gantry and begin to rise up against their captors. Wintrow falls into analysis paralysis as Sa’Adar works on the takeover.

Aboard the Marietta, Kennit orders pursuit of a liveship in the storm. He considers Sorcor and Etta as they move to his command, the lingering pain of his amputation vexing him as the Marietta bears down on the liveship. Pursuit is joined, and Kennit coaches Etta as she steers the ship towards her intended prey. She exults in his attention.

It is not directly stated in the present chapter, though it is heavily implied, that the liveship the Marietta has in sight is, in fact, the Vivacia, the pursuit of which is a (contrived, though everything in a novel necessarily is) coincidence of Kennit’s desires and Sorcor’s. The Vivacia does not seem to be living up to her name, for the most part, understandably in the circumstances, and I find myself once again reading the book in a frame of mind reminding me of a romance novel. I am not as versed in that genre as I am some others, I admit, and perhaps that is a failing on my part, but I have to wonder if Hobb is working towards some critique of the genre in the Liveship Traders series.

It is certainly an interesting possibility.

Care to support what I do here?

A Consideration of Luna’s “Poem #335”

A while back, I wrote a short piece looking at “Poem #264” on Pen to Paper, a website that hosts works by the site owner and a number of others, including myself. Because I can never seem, in fact, to leave well enough alone–why else would I still be writing things that look like academic papers months after exiting academe?–it seemed to me to be a good time to go back to that blog and pull up another piece. In this case, it’s Luna’s “Poem #335,” the most recent of the site owner’s own verse on the site as of this writing.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/writersblock.jpg
It’s like this sometimes, yes.
Image taken from
TVTropes.com, here,
used for commentary

The poem, composed of three non-rhyming quatrains of uneven line-length, adopts a second-person stance that appears to be a reflexive address; that is, the narrator appears to be talking to themself. (Yes, I know the singular “they” and its derivatives annoy, and I know it is easy to assume that the narrator shares the author’s gender unless there is textual evidence to the contrary. Still, for reasons I have addressed, I use it here.) The subject is a change in orientation towards writing, noting a shift from release to rebuke and a tendency to move away from writing therefore–with a cover story offered as justification for the motion.

As I read the poem, I am reminded of comments I have seen from other writers, namely that revisiting old works is not a good idea–and the problem the narrator of “Poem #335” cites is one occasioned by reading back over their own words. They cannot shout back from a page that is never turned, after all. Given my own propensity towards looking back at my own work, though, I cannot find fault with the narrator–or the addressee, if I am wrong about the narrator talking to themself–doing the same thing. It is often helpful to have a sense of context and continuity, after all, and it’s hard to achieve those without looking back over older work. (Hell, it’s hard enough doing so with the backward look. I’m pretty sure I demonstrate that difficulty.)

I also note that a focus of the poem seems to be that the narrator / interlocutor seems moved towards numbing and distancing. The feigned writer’s block is a defense against the emotions occasioned by writing; it is easy to read “the smoke and alcohol, / the hobbies and oversleeping, / [and] the binges and the purges” of the first stanza similarly. Working in substance abuse treatment as I do, I can attest to the frequency of recourse to chemicals to blunt the pain or ennui of daily life; having been a fan, I can attest, too, to the distance afforded by over-engaging in a hobby. I have to think the others work in much the same ways. All such matters are temporary, fleeting, and it is clear to my eye that the narrator is pointing towards a similar transience of feigned writer’s block; it can only stave off emotional engagement for so long, for so much effect.

It is also true, however, that doing the work of writing or of reading may well not be so cathartic as might be hoped and has been posited by any number of commenters. Wrestling emotions out onto the page–printed or pixelated–does not always empty the head and heart of them; sometimes, even if such opponents are pinned, they retain a grip on a joint or the throat, and being laid out does not mean they let go. So there is that to consider, as well.

If you could help me keep doing this, I’d appreciate it.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 132: Ship of Magic, Chapter 31

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


The following chapter, “Ships and Serpents,” begins with Wintrow and the Vivacia conferring about their respective perspectives. The ship notes that, in the absence of Wintrow, she had begun to become aware of something she cannot put into words, some sense of identity other than that of herself as a liveship awakened by the blood of Wintrow’s kin. They are disturbed by the captain’s approach to the foredeck.

Wintrow _1
An image of the boy…
Wintrow_1 by MartAiConan on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Said captain rails against a crew that struggles to maintain order and good form while the ship they sail is unwilling to cooperate. Mentally, he rails against his son for not meeting his expectations, as well as against his wife and her family for the same. The ship and the trailing serpent also attract his ire, and he assaults Wintrow, making to pitch his still-fettered son overboard to the waiting sea-creature.

The serpents themselves are confused by the Vivacia as they follow her out of Jamaillia Bay and on her northward journey. One follows her as a food source; Maulkin and others follow her as a sort of echo of a pivotal figure. But they do so with hesitation, uncertainty.

Aboard the ship, a fracas ensues as Gantry answers the ship’s summons and tries to calm matters. Gantry works to put matters to rights as the captain considers what he had been about to do and the ship herself tries to puzzle out what she felt when she slapped at one of the trailing serpents. The captain looks on with patriarchal disgust as the mate tries to restore some semblance of calm and order to the ship, and he rails at the lot of them before stalking back to his cabin.

After, Wintrow considers matters as the ship makes what progress she can, given her cargo and crew. He and the ship fall into an angry existential argument, from which they emerge suddenly into an uneasy self-questioning and contemplation.

Aboard the Ophelia, Althea finds herself confronted by the liveship; her disguise is of no avail to her. The ship plays with her regarding her secret, winning far more than she gives up, and Althea learns something of the liveships’ community. She muses on what she has lost from not having asked for aid, and the ship presses on.

If there is a central theme to the chapter, it is encapsulated in the passage aboard the Ophelia, and it is the theme spoken to by the old adages of carpe diem and memento mori. It is the reminder that the present is of value, that being present is of value. Things are lost by absence, never to be reclaimed, even if the absence is needful or helpful–and especially when it is not, and not asking for aid often makes for absences that are not needed or helpful. As someone who has been away, perhaps too much, I find the reminder…uncomfortable, but I also know that being made uncomfortable is a good thing every now and again. Reactions to it are not always so, as the world shows far more often than could be hoped. But perhaps such discomforts can lead to better ends.

Perhaps.

I always appreciate whatever you can send along.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 131: Ship of Magic, Chapter 30

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


The next chapter , “Defiance and Alliance,” opens with an account of the beginnings of trouble aboard the new slaveship Vivacia. As slaves are being loaded onto her, one opts to die quickly, jumping overboard and drowning as the chains about him pull him under. Serpents rouse to eat the flesh, and Torg lashes the slaves together in anger. Wintrow sorrows with the others’ dehumanizing sorrows, which the ship causes him to feel more keenly, and most of the crew begins to chafe at the change to their work.

#jani khuprus from Katrin Sapranova
The fateful meeting…
Image by Katrin Sapranova on Tumblr, used for commentary

The Vivacia considers her captain and his jealous ire at Wintrow. She has the captain bring the boy to her as she considers her changed relationship to him more closely. His attempt to leave has hurt her, but she makes herself something of a nuisance until he is brought to her.

In Bingtown, Keffria and Ronica make ready to receive the Rain Wild Festrew Traders; their preparations are noted. What she knows of the Festrews, as well as of the situation with Malta’s dream-box, is rehearsed, as are her continuing annoyances with Ronica, and she longs for her husband to take over running things. At length, the Rain Wild Traders arrive–but it is not only a Festrew, but Jani Khuprus, as well, whom the Vestrit women greet.

After pleasantries are exchanged, the reason for the Khuprus visit is made clear: the dream-box. Khuprus, through her son, Reyn, is aware that the box has been opened and the contained dream shared. More, the debt for the Vivacia that had been owed to the Festrews has been transferred to the Khuprus Trader Family; the debt would have been forgiven as a marriage gift. With Malta not yet eligible for marriage, however, the arrangement is in substantial peril, and tensions suddenly rise sharply. Caolwn Festrew brokers a compromise, however, to which Keffria agrees.

For all the problems inherent in making marriage an economic contract, the present chapter does present an interesting conundrum in the interaction between economics and amorousness. Admittedly, the amorousness in question is itself problematic, evoking the doomed and hormone-driven inanity of Romeo & Juliet in a twenty-year-old becoming infatuated with a girl barely into adolescence (Caolwn Festrew’s comment about being married at fifteen notwithstanding). Even so, it highlights the fundamental irrationality of finance–namely that people, even people as ostensibly money-savvy as a group that defines itself via its mercantilism, are not rational actors.

It also brings up an interesting bit of anachronism. While the Six Duchies, existing in the same narrative universe, appears to operate at a nebulously medieval European level of technology, the Traders and Jamaillia operate at what seems for the most part to be the Age of Sail, some centuries later. (The lack of gunpowder weaponry continues to be an interesting quirk, to be sure.) The disparity can be explained in some of the same ways that the technological disparities between the Mediterranean region and northern Europe during the traditional later medieval period can, of course, but neither of the periods was noted for encouraging romantic marriage among its upper classes–which the Traders are. I find myself again strangely in mind of a romance novel as I reread the chapter, and I have to wonder at some of the genre boundaries that seem still to linger for me.

I don’t suppose I could get a little help?

Thirsting

Are my springs drying out
Their aquifers growing empty from
Too many drilled wells
Going too deep
Pumping each more than its portion?
Am I beset by too bright a sun
Subject to too many cloudless days when
What I need is rain?
But if I know well
Who and what
Has sunk each shaft into me
I am far less certain who has assumed the role of
Masaka
Named in revulsion
Before whom do I stand
To be burned away?
Who shines so brightly
So harshly
In my life?
Or is my pale skin
So thin
That it quails even under dimmer lights
That the flesh beneath grows brittle
Under a fading lamp?

San Antonio Provides Financing for Source Water Protection | Conservation  Finance Network
Ahhh. Relief.
Image from the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s Flickr, used for commentary.

Help me drill a new well?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 130: Ship of Magic, Chapter 29

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


The chapter that follows, “Dreams and Reality,” starts with Keffria and Ronica confronting Malta regarding the dream-box that had been sent to her and that has been marked as missing. Keffria is satisfied by Malta’s responses, but Ronica is not and tries to impress upon her granddaughter the seriousness of their situation. Their confrontation causes Ronica to reassess Malta and lay bare more of the Vestrits’ knowledge to her. The exchange continues, and Ronica leaves the room; Malta exults in her perceived victory and lashes out at the servant, Rache.

Actor Profile: Tim Curry
There are worse renditions of such a figure than this one that comes to mind.
Image from Muppet Treasure Island, used for commentary.

Amber confers with the Paragon, asking the ship after itself in some detail. The ship grows upset at the notion of being sold away from the Ludluck Traders, and Amber relates something of the prevailing straitened circumstances–for them and their peers. The Paragon makes mention of the Rain Wild Traders, about whom few outside Bingtown know, and Amber voices a fantasy that the ship pointedly rejects.

Away, aboard the Marietta, Etta tries to minister to Kennit’s injury; he rebuffs her forcefully. Sorcor, when he answers his captain’s summons, agrees with Etta that the amputation needs to be re-made, more of the leg cut away to allow the rest of him to heal, but he also stops such talk when bidden and makes his report on the state of affairs about his crew. Kennit resumes his plans to seize a liveship; Sorcor begins to object until Kennit manipulates him into compliance. Kennit’s wizardwood charm chides the captain after the mate leaves in a paroxysm of loyalty.

Kennit being on a crutch calls up one of the tropes associated with pirates of the age of sail–not unjustly. Any work with heavy moving objects has the potential to cause injury; work with heavy moving objects and minimal safety equipment carries the risk of grievous injury, yet the work must still be done. And Kennit, being an amputee and leaning on a crutch, calls to mind two literary forebears, in particular: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver and Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab.

Thinking on the matter from the perspective of having read the Liveships novels before, as well as Moby-Dick (somehow, Treasure Island has escaped me to this point, though a copy is on one of my bookshelves at home), I think there’s something to be said for how Kennit refigures the character types of the earlier works. I’m not at all sure I have the notes that would let me work through that idea well, though; they might have been culled. But then, they might not have…

Someday, I hope to have the leisure to pursue such ideas again. Someday.

Your continued support is greatly appreciated.

A Rumination on Patriot Day

I have commented elsewhere (here, here, here, here, here, and here, if not in other places, as well) on some of the significance of the day; I am not equipped to do more than “some,” of course, having been relatively removed from the losses of the day, although not from the fear. I still feel the shame of that fear, in fact, and some of the things that my youthful self was led to feel and believe, if briefly, based upon it. And, looking back, I am not entirely pleased that I seem to have returned again and again to the metaphor of wounds scarring and not healing. It is apt enough, perhaps, but perhaps trite or cliche, and those who have died deserve better than the cliche I am too apt to give.

No picture today. None is needed.

Still, the events now nineteen years ago mark me, as they mark many others–because I know well enough at this point to know that I am not special in far, far more ways than I am. They are not the only ones, of course; I remember Columbine from afar, and less vividly Oklahoma City, and less vividly yet Desert Storm, even if the last touched closer to me than the latter two. And the financial downturns have had more direct effect on me, I think, though their details remain all too murky. To move to a different metaphor, they are not so much the ink upon my pages as the binding of them; the pulp of which I am formed is sourced elsewhere, and the ink itself is made of many smaller marks, but without the binding, the individual leaves fall apart. The winds are ever-blowing, and falling pages blow away.

My entire adult life has taken place in the context of 9/11 having happened. I do not know that I will ever have enough distance from that to be able to understand it, really–and, again, I am relatively removed from the events of the day, having staggered out of a percussion class taken when I entertained the fantasy of becoming a band director to face the reality of pervasive fear that others had had to endure for far longer. For those who were closer to it, are closer to it…

There is always something else, though, always some other unbeatable enemy that still has to be fought because “we can’t let the bastards win.” Patriot Day kicked off perhaps the second forever war of my recollection (I was late into the War on Drugs, about which little is spoken anymore, even with me working in substance abuse treatment), but it was not the last one; the War on Terror proceeds, and another is getting good and started in mainstream view, though it has been going on less overtly for far, far longer than should ever have been. The old fear that has never really subsided is being stoked again and fueled and fed anew, and I and others are still far too much prey to it.

We have learned little if anything, and none of it of use.

Help is still needed, however.

A Rumination on Who Owns a Story

It may well be the case that I have more stories to tell than I tend to think of myself as having. I’ve lived a relatively sedate life–which is good, because I do not handle excitement well–but some attention has still managed to attach itself to some of the little vignettes I’ve put together and put out in this webspace and others. They’ve tended to be more or less about me or things I’ve seen or experienced, and I’ve worked to anonymize others in them to the extent reasonable. (Talking about my daughter as my daughter only hides her so much, even under a pseudonym, but I’ve had hundreds of students, so “a student” could be easily hidden, for example.)

https://merryfarmer.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/storyteller.jpg
Ah, to be so fancy.
Image from Merry Farmer’s website, used for commentary

One problem I run into as I consider bringing out some of the stories from my life that have stuck with me is that I am not sure they’re mine to tell. Those that had been narrated to my by those now gone are among them; do I have the right to tell one grandmother’s stories when four of her children are still living and I am not the eldest of her living grandchildren, or should I pass on my great uncle’s wisdom or “wisdom” when his own kids and grandkids are still around?

More pressing, of course, are those that bear in on the yet living who would recognize themselves in the stories. Admittedly, some of that issue is fear; I know I do not come out well in all of the stories I could tell, and I know I am not the only one who would not. (Honestly, how many of us are proud of everything we did as kids or younger adults?) I live again where I grew up, and I am not the only one who does; some of the folks still around might well take exception to having things dredged up, even under pseudonyms, in a place where a causal search of newspaper records would provide some telling links between people. Some of the issue, too, is that I may well not be the best person to tell the story. I might have watched while others acted, for example, or acted in such capacities as kept me from seeing larger movements and contexts. (Indeed, I know for a fact that I did that a lot; I still miss a lot of the surrounding information.)

And then there is the biggest issue: do I remember things well enough to tell them? For most of the more nearly interesting parts of my life, an ever-increasing distance exists from then to now. (As I note above, I live a sedate life; I could add sedentary to it with ease. It does not make for interesting stories, in the main.) Details fade, and it is in the details that stories live; without them, what can I offer? Without them, should I seek to offer? And if I cannot offer them, well…I might own it, but selling it would not be possible.

Helping me have more time to write will help me write more and better, you know…